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Anatomy of a Crisis

Anatomy of a Crisis: Education, Development, and the State in Cambodia, 1953-1998

David M. Ayres
Copyright Date: 2000
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  • Book Info
    Anatomy of a Crisis
    Book Description:

    In 1993, the United Nations sponsored national elections in Cambodia, signaling the international community's commitment to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of what was, by any measure, a shattered and torn society. Cambodia's economy was stagnant. The education system was in complete disarray: Students had neither pens nor books, teachers were poorly trained, and classrooms were literally crumbling. Few of the individuals and organizations responsible for financing, planning, and implementing Cambodia's post-election development thought it necessary to ask why the country's economy and society were in such a parlous state. The mass graves scattered throughout the countryside provided an obvious explanation. The appalling state of the education system, many argued, could be directly attributed to the fact that among the 1.7 million victims of Pol Pot's holocaust were thousands of students, teachers, technocrats, and intellectuals. In this exacting and insightful examination of the crisis in Cambodian education, David M. Ayres challenges the widespread belief that the key to Cambodia's future development and prosperity lies in overcoming the dreadful legacy of Khmer Rouge. He seeks to explain why Cambodia has struggled with an educational crisis for more that four decades (including the years before the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975) and thus casts the net of his analysis well beyond Pol Pot and his accomplices. Drawing on an extensive range of sources, Ayres clearly shows that Cambodia's educational dilemma--the disparity between the education system and the economic, political, and cultural environments, which it should serve--can be explained by setting education within its historical and cultural contexts. Themes of tradition, modernity, change, and changelessness are linked with culturally entrenched notions of power, hierarchy, and leadership to clarify why education funding is promised but rarely delivered, why schools are built where they are not needed, why plans are enthusiastically embraced but never implemented, and why contracts and agreements are ignored almost immediately after they are signed. Anatomy of a Crisis will be compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in education and development issues, as well as Cambodian society, culture, politics, and history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6144-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    At the heart of precolonial Cambodia, and at the heart of the country’s modern conscience, are the awe-inspiring towers of Angkor Wat. Built in the twelfth century by the Khmer king, Suryavarman II (r. 1113–1150), the temple embodies the two underlying tenets of Cambodian traditionalism.¹ First, it represents a palpable testament to the glorious pages of Cambodia’s past, when the Khmer kingdom was among the most powerful in Southeast Asia. Second, the cosmology associated with Angkor Wat highlights the essential themes of traditional Cambodian conceptions of power: absolutism and the primacy of hierarchy. The story of Angkor Wat’s penetration...

  6. 1 The Traditional Setting: State, Society, and Education before Independence
    (pp. 9-30)

    Just how people came to inhabit the land that now forms Cambodia remains something of a mystery. As in many other Southeast Asian countries, mythical legends about the creation of Cambodia provide tales rich in detail and adventure yet scant in terms of historical fact. One story revolves around a Brahman prince who marries a dragon-princess. The descendants of this couple, according to the legend, are the first inhabitants of Khmer lands, Kambuja. Like many such legends of emergence, Cambodia’s tale of Kaundinya has a number of variations, all established on similar themes.¹ Although useless in terms of a historical...

  7. 2 Sihanouk and the Sangkum: From Independence to Chaos
    (pp. 31-66)

    When King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated the Cambodian throne to contest the 1955 elections, he brought to an end two years of bitter political conflict as independent Cambodia had struggled to contend with its newly granted freedom. Drawing on the divine status accorded to his former title, Sihanouk seized control of the emergent Cambodian state, formulated its ideology, and exerted his influence on the direction of public policy. It was during the following years, under Sihanouk’s guidance as the builder of the modern Cambodian nation-state, that the country was popularly portrayed as an “oasis of peace,” a Southeast Asian “Camelot.”¹


  8. 3 Lon Nol and the Republic: The Declining State
    (pp. 67-93)

    Neil Davis’ recollections of the bombing of the Ecole Wat Phnom, a private primary school in the center of Phnom Penh, in the final weeks of the life of the Khmer Republic, serve as a poignant metaphor for the five years that followed the Sihanouk era and preceded the Democratic Kampuchea holocaust in Cambodia:¹

    The rocket had gone straight into a classroom with children aged six to nine years. There were fourteen or fifteen dead, thirty or forty seriously wounded and it was like a scene from Dante’sInferno.Bloodied children wounded and screaming in terror were trying to get...

  9. 4 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge: Building and Defending Cambodia
    (pp. 94-119)

    By April 1975, most of Phnom Penh’s students had not attended classes for more than a month. When they saw the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge finally enter the city, many of these students, and their parents, were relieved. The fighting had stopped and they could finally return to school. A former student of the Lycée Yukanthor remembered his father, who was a teacher, expressing the hope that the new Khmer Rouge government would eliminate the corruption that had flourished in schools during the five years of Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic. When the Khmer Rouge soldiers finally reached the front...

  10. 5 The PRK and the SOC: The State in Transition
    (pp. 120-149)

    In 1973, the commander of the Khmer Rouge’s 126th Regiment, based in the Eastern Zone, advanced across the Mekong river in pursuit of Lon Nol’s Republican army. His troops attempted to climb Phnom (Mount) Chisor, in Takeo province, in search of a traditional malarial cure, whereupon twelve of them were arrested, taken away, and killed. They were not arrested by Republican soldiers nor by the Republic’s South Vietnamese allies who frequented the East. The commander’s troops were arrested by their fellow Communists, troops of the Southwest, under the notorious command of the Center-aligned Mok.¹

    More than five years later, with...

  11. 6 Ranariddh and Hun Sen: From Uneasy Alliance to Coup
    (pp. 150-183)

    On July 5, 1997, Cambodia’s second prime minister, Hun Sen, appeared on national television dressed in military fatigues. With none of his usual flamboyance, he calmly read a statement in which he accused his counterpart, First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh, and other officials from Prince Ranariddh’s National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) party, of illegal acts that were “dangerous to the nation.” Hours later, bullets began to fly as troops aligned with Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) attempted to forcibly disarm those troops and security personnel aligned to FUNCINPEC. Within two days, Hun...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 184-192)

    Like Angkor Wat, where the traditional and modern worlds are enmeshed by the rise and the fall of the sun, the modern Cambodian nation-state embodies both tradition and modernity. Shrouded by the dark cloak of twilight, the temple’s disappearance from the horizon is followed at dawn by the slow ascent of the sun from behind its central towers, where it again joins the modern world. The Cambodian nationstate, with Angkor Wat at its core, oscillates between these two worlds, attempting to reconcile the demands of each. The education system, central to state-making, is caught in the middle of the reconciliation...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 193-228)
  14. References
    (pp. 229-250)
  15. Index
    (pp. 251-256)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-258)