Archives - ‘Cambodia’

A Perfect Moment

March 30, 2011 | Emily, DVM Program, Intern, Cambodia Fishery Action Coalition Team

Have you ever had a perfect moment? Not the kind of moment that is meant to be perfect but rather one that you just stubble upon. I experienced this moment the other day while here in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh is a continuing growing city that is full of life. There are young people everywhere, enjoying food and drinks or just chatting outside. Often in the Evening there is one place in particular I enjoy spending my time, it is in front of the Vietnam - Cambodia friendship monument, right across from the Hong Kong Center. From the hours of 5 pm to 10 pm, this beautiful outside park area floods with people enjoying themselves. There are families, old and young, participating in soccer, badminton and my favourite evening activity synchronized, choreographed dancing, as they call aerobics, but not like any aerobics from home, it is taken straight from the music videos of Korean pop singers. Hundreds of people stand in lines and follow the dance routines while listening to huge sounds systems that have been brought by an individual.

One evening I was dancing with a few of my friends I have met here in Cambodia, it was fairly hot outside, as the rainy season is fast approaching, so we were breaking out quite a sweat. Suddenly the leader of the dance came on the microphone and announced the dance was finished for today, I thought to myself and looked down at my cell phone to check, it was a bit early to finish the dance but never the less I would head home and get to bed early. When I looked back up I realized everyone was forming a circle! Everyone knew exactly what to do, some people were gathering chairs, and others were nudging their way to the front of the circle. I was curious, joined the circle and waited in anticipation for what would happen next? The Music began to play again and two young guys, of whom I recognized as good dancers from the previous nights, entered the center of the circle and began the dance battle.

It is incredible, the way these guys could move, everyone watched in awe, the younger girls screamed and cheers with excitement and as I looked around at the people, everyone had a big smile on their face. At this moment I loved everything about this city, I want to take a big breath of the entire city! Seeing these dancers and young happy people and being surrounded by friends, I have really meet great people in Cambodia and loved being part of this crazy scene, this moment made me feel ALIVE and that is what made it so perfect!

Half way over…

March 3, 2011 | Erica, DVM Program, Intern, Cambodia, The Center of Foreigh Languages (Generail English Program), IIC university of Technology, Rector's Assistant

The internship placement is now over half way completed. It took about three weeks to really get my head around what I was expected to do, to become comfortable with my colleagues and students and to understand how I could work in this setting. With the help of others, I was able to understand how the university was organized and what was preventing it from being a stronger institution and offering higher quality education to its students. From here, I managed what my supervisor wanted me to work on and other projects that I believed would make a significant difference in the short term and that I could successfully implement. This resulted in having multiple projects related to capacity building that I would work on throughout the term.

Education in Cambodia is not standardized very well. It is difficult to assess the quality of education of any institution, especially the private institutions, because of a lack of standard measurements and administrative capacities as well as the ability to buy (bribe for) grades. Private universities are a popular choice when creating a new business because of the ease of defining one’s own rules in such an institution along with the freedom of bureaucratic regulations. There are large returns in this business with a culture so keen on becoming educated and so easy to exploit, especially when they pay from their shallow pockets even for the risk of a below average education.

I was very grateful to have an internship where I could see change happen within my time here. Most of the projects I am working on will be implemented for the first time during my stay and my contributions involve being part of that progression. I felt very good that I could physically and practically contribute to change, but then the more I watched and listened, the more I wondered about the significance of it all. I began to become concerned over the broader reality of Cambodia’s education system and hesitant that my miniscule decisions could influence broader change or if my ideas were even appropriate for such a context.

Only 7% of children attend post-secondary education, a number that does not in any way imply how many students are getting a good education. It’s another matter defining what good actually means in this sense, which should be thought about and reflected on carefully. A minimum level of quality in education requires institutionalization, but it is this sort of bureaucracy that adds cost to education and risks imposing technocratic methods that aren’t necessarily suitable for a developing country. I have tried to balance what I know from my culture and what I see here in my placement to provide solutions to some of the problems within the IIC or, at the very least, to increase opportunities for students.

But I fear that, from my work and presence here, staff and students alike will retain a skewed perception of what education can mean. They will remember a western perception of education and look towards it with aspiration as too many Cambodians already do. I often have students ask me about how education works in Canada; they are keen to compare and quick to realize what they do not have in comparison to others. Maybe this is positive, but not when they are only dreaming to have the same education as other societies instead of using the knowledge as a tool to analyze why and how their own system is flawed. This is the time and the generation, I believe, that Cambodians really need to think for themselves. They have the ability to take what they understand about education in their own country and abroad and to decide how to make it work for them.

One of the tasks I decided to do during the internship was write out an employment contract to use for the teachers in the Centre of Foreign Languages. It is a recurring problem that teachers resign from their jobs in the middle of a term and do not give any notice. I explained to my supervisor what I was planning on doing and he asked if he could find me a temple online to copy and use. I was fairly shocked. My readiness to learn what the CFL needed for an appropriate contract for their office and design it to their needs was not a consideration to my supervisor and he did not understand how I would go about writing that contract without a template to copy. Come to think of it, the Department Head beforehand also said he would look for a contract used at another school, but I initially thought it was to stimulate ideas or use for comparison; perhaps that wasn’t the case. I see this example as a microcosm of how Cambodia approaches education in general.

These perceptions are a result of social, political and historical circumstances that have come to define Cambodian education. For instance, after the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s scholars and education system had been wiped out. They have started from scratch with a public education system that does not adequately teach them how to think critically. This will be a major challenge for today’s youth of Cambodia. They cannot rely on simply mimicking the ideas of outsiders, or having international aid and volunteers to show them what to do. They want education and opportunity and jobs, and they have the will and intelligence to attain those things for themselves… if they can think of how to do it.

This is something I cannot change, but I try in small ways. With the projects I do here, including teaching two English classes, I try to emphasize the importance of not relying on others. I repeat that my work is not complete unless the projects can continue after I leave and when I am not needed. I try to teach the students how to speak without looking at the book, to think about answers and not to read answers. It is this message that I hope passes on to others, rather than the models I give for the work I am doing.

The future of development

February 3, 2011 | Erica, DVM Program, Intern, Cambodia, The Center of Foreigh Languages (Generail English Program), IIC university of Technology, Rector's Assistant

How we look at the world is influenced by development. The outcomes of history have shaped our perceptions and influenced our decisions. This past weekend, I took a boat ride through the mangrove forests and fishing villages in Koh Kong province. Maybe it was the sun, the seemlingly infinite amount of water, or just the simplicity of it all, but I felt at ease, at peace, yet full of so many thoughts.

I believe the Western world has sacrificed something essential for the sake of rapid development. One of the villages had a large cement structure to store rain and drinking water for the village, but they were not capable of collecting enough to avoid buying water during the dry season. Another village had seen successful development in erecting more classrooms, but it was still recently that they only had two, and they remain to have only one female teacher (due to cultural traditions).

As least developed countries continue to develop, they do so more slowly than history has once shown. Their successes are still side-by-side to lack of basic necessities that people need to encourage their right to freedom. These communities are still concerned with what they need as opposed to the skewed perceptions of what they want. I feel that the future of development can and will be a more positive force if we change the way we think about development and learn from the knowledge and realities of small communities like these.

In terms of my own work at IIC University, a private institution, the need to develop capabilities, increase efficiency and retain staff are all very present issues. Although the university operates as a business, there is a genuine interest among it’s operators to solve these issues for the sake of a quality education for students. I think these good motives remain intact because the lack of good education remains a reality for many Cambodians, even in Phnom Penh. I’m not sure where the right balance between private and public services should rest, but I am sure that there is no mutually <exclusive answer.

It’s determined by the historical context of the community and the culture perceptions of it’s people.