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  3. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools
  4. Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ
  5. Human Rights Education in Cambodian Schools --The Experience of the Last Three Years

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Backnumber

Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ

Human Rights Education in Cambodian Schools --The Experience of the Last Three Years

Mengho Leang
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Human rights teaching methodology program

Through a partnership between the Cambodian Institute of Human Rights (CIHR) and the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport, human rights education has been a formal part of the primary and secondary school curriculum for approximately three years. Formally, the CIHR project is entitled "Human Rights Teaching Methodology".

   The initial idea of CIHR was to make education in human rights (as well as democracy and non-violence) a part of each schoolchild's classes. We thought this necessary because human rights and the social fabric had been nearly destroyed by the terror of the Khmer Rouge regime. It was necessary to rebuild human rights and restore traditional values from the ground up by educating all the generations to come. Considerable emphasis was given to the need to use education to restore values lost in Cambodia during more than two decades of war -- tolerance, solidarity, love and cooperation.

   The program developed in several stages. First, direct meeting were sought with the Minister of Education, in order to get approval of the writing of a curriculum for all grades. CIHR emphasized to the Minister that this would be his project, and its success would reflect positively upon his Ministry. Care was taken to ensure support from other ranking officials, including both Prime Ministers, by involving them later on in CIHR activities such as mass graduation ceremonies.

   The curriculum, a graduated one covering all 11 grade levels of primary and secondary schools, was then drafted by Ministry of Education curriculum writers in tandem with CIHR. To start, an introductory seminar was held with the Ministry officials to help them with their knowledge of human rights and guide their work. Members of NGOs, women's groups, students, etc. were also invited to contribute to the seminar. The result was six illustrated teachers' manuals covering all the grade levels. For each grade, there is an active curriculum (human rights as a separate subject) and an integrated curriculum, in which human rights are inserted into other subjects such as reading and literature. These books were completed in 1994.

   After the curriculum was drafted and officially approved by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry informed CIHR that this was not enough to get human rights into the classroom. Cambodia's teachers, it was pointed out, could not use the curriculum effectively without being trained in it. Thousands of Cambodia's teachers had been slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge. New teachers had been recruited afterwards, but often they had only a few years of education themselves and very little training or experience.

   In 1995, CIHR then embarked on the second, ambitious phase of the project: to teach all of Cambodia's over 70,000 primary and secondary teachers how to teach human rights, democracy, and non-violence in the classroom. Our initial goal was half of those teachers, but we have since decided to aim higher. So far, over 17,000 teachers, including most of Cambodia's secondary teachers, have been trained. About 40% of the trainees are women.

   The training -- again in close cooperation with the Ministry at national, provincial, and local levels -- began with an introductory seminar with NGO participation, followed by a two-week master training for 30 Ministry of Education master trainers using local and international experts. These master trainers then trained 5,498 secondary school teachers. For the much more numerous primary school teachers, a different method was employed: 1,684 master trainers were trained, and they fanned out into the countryside to teach thousands more. Some school directors, teachers-in-training, and other education ministry officials are also included as trainees.

   The training has included refresher courses for master trainers, evaluation sessions, and the publication of a regular magazine for teachers on human rights, democracy, and non-violence. School teachers who underwent training were also contestants on a CIHR-sponsored 10 part human rights contest broadcast on national television. A human rights question and answer booklet based on the contest was distributed widely. On human rights day, December 10, CIHR provides tens of thousands of leaflets for our trained teachers and their students to distribute throughout the country.

   The final phase of the project will be completed when training in the methodology and substance of teaching human rights is part of the regular training for all new teachers. This will make the project completely sustainable. This idea has received endorsement from the top leaders of the country, but we are working with the government to make it a reality. It will complement the in-service training of all of Cambodia's primary and secondary teachers. Ultimately then, all Cambodian school children should receive human rights instruction at all grade levels.

Training format

For the classroom teachers being trained, the seminars/workshops last about 5 1/2 days. The first few days consist of theory and exercises such as drawing up lessons, the last two days are devoted to conducting model classes with schoolchildren. The teacher's performance is then critiqued by his or her colleagues.

   We teach and encourage the use of participatory, student-centered methods. So we do "icebreaker" exercises with the teachers, and show them how to use class discussions, pictures, games, and active exercises to interest the schoolchildren in human rights. CIHR organizes the training program (with the Education Ministry) but it is the teacher's colleagues -- fellow teachers and education ministry officials -- who do the grassroots training.

   Each trainee receives the teacher's manual plus at least a dozen other books and posters for classroom use. These may often be the only books the teacher has for the class since Cambodia's schools are poorly supplied.


So far, the program has been quite successful and unaffected by political changes in Cambodia. Through tests, evaluations, direct observation and questionnaires, we have determined that the teachers are grasping the material presented and are able to use it. In one post-training on-site survey, 94% of the teachers trained were subsequently able to use, and actually using, what they learned in the training. Generally, the teachers tend to use an integrated approach to human rights teaching. Our largest problem has been funding: since the Cambodian government has few resources, we have relied on foreign donor organizations who have been generous but inconsistent in their funding. The teacher' main complaint is that the training is too short and they want more instruction -- but budget restrictions make that impossible at present.

What makes for success?

   There are several keys to success in our experience:

  1. Involve the government as a partner at all levels. If local governors or commune chiefs are suspicious, we invite them to attend and actively participate in the opening or closing ceremonies of the training. This has allayed many misgivings on their part. They have also seen the Prime Ministers on television endorsing the training which encourages them (and the schoolteachers) to believe that human rights education is fully acceptable. For sustainability, this must become the government's ongoing program, something it is proud of.
  2. Be resolutely non-partisan and non-political. Other organizations do human rights monitoring and investigation, and therefore may be seen as critics or even opponents of the government. We must work in the public schools and cooperate with the government.
  3. Follow up and create a community. One-time training is not enough. We want our trainees to feel they are part of an ongoing movement or community. Hence the teachers' magazine we distribute to them, the refresher courses and evaluation sessions, the televised contests and ceremonial opening and closing sessions, prizes for class leaders and human rights day activities are all continuously being done. The CIHR's libraries in Phnom Penh and three other provinces welcome school teachers. The teachers themselves show extraordinary enthusiasm. Nursing mothers bring their babies; people come from long distances across dangerous Khmer-Rouge territory or direct from the rice paddy where they were working. Attendance at our sessions is usually perfect.
  4. Simplify. Presenting ideas simply and clearly is necessary because of the low educational level of many teachers, especially primary school teachers. We do not use the complicated language of international conventions.
  5. Use familiar cultural values. We use especially Theravada Buddhism to convey our concepts and make them more understandable and acceptable.

Cambodian Culture and Human Rights

There are traditional values in Cambodia, and some of these might be called "Asian Values". Many of these are perfectly consistent with international human rights standards. We select and use traditional values pragmatically, to support and explain international human rights standards, not to oppose or undermine them. There are certainly anti-human rights currents in Cambodian history and culture, most notoriously during the Khmer Rouge period. These can be used as negative examples. In general, given their tragic past, Cambodians are receptive to human rights concepts.

   There is much in Theravada Buddhism which supports human rights, and almost everyone in Cambodia considers herself or himself to be a Buddhist. While typically phrased as obligations rather than rights, the rules of moral conduct in Buddhism cover much of the content of internationally recognized human rights. The first precept, do not kill, covers the rights to life. The prohibition on doing harm prohibits torture. Do not steal recognizes property rights, and so on. In a broader sense, Buddhism recognizes the equality of people and their inherent dignity, and calls for compassion, tolerance, and mutual respect. All these ideas can be used to support international human rights concepts. Tolerance means religious and political liberty. Mutual respect means recognizing the rights of others. We have found that our students, even high-ranking military, come to appreciate human rights when they are linked to Buddhist values. Some, we hope, may come to believe that human rights abuses -- clearly inconsistent with Buddhist doctrine -- will have serious consequences for the abuser, such as being reborn in hell or as a lower life form!

   Traditional Cambodian culture also has elements favoring democracy -- the democratic way monks are organized and village decision-making by the consensus of the elders. These traditions can be used to explain political rights.

The Cambodian Institute of Human Rights

The Cambodian Institute of Human Rights was founded in 1993 as a non-profit, non-partisan non-governmental organization. Its Director is Kassie Neou and its Deputy Director (and Program Director for HRTM) is Mengho Leang. CIHR is a professional rather than membership organization. Its headquarters is in Phnom Penh, and it has branch offices in Battambang, Kampot, and Kompong Cham. Each office has a public library with materials concentrating on human rights and law. We encourage students and teachers to use the libraries.

   CIHR's primary mission is education and training in the area of human rights, non-violence, democracy, and good governance. These are part of our broader aim of bringing enduring peace and reconciliation to Cambodia. At present, CIHR is placing emphasis on the importance of ensuring free and fair national elections in Cambodia, now scheduled for 1998. We also see development as a way for people to give concrete meaning to the exercise of their rights.

   Among the recent programs CIHR has undertaken are the following:

  1. Human Rights curriculum development and training for Cambodia's primary and secondary school teachers.
  2. Weekly television, radio, and newspaper series on human rights and democracy. Television and radio will focus increasingly on elections and good governance. TV and radio quiz contests on human rights, awards ceremony hosted by the First Prime Minister.
  3. Daily radio program five days a week for rural women.
  4. Roum Prattna (Common Wish) development project. This provides participative community development to villages near Phnom Penh including a credit arrangement for local women silk-weavers, a day care center, a children's library, and other project such as canal and road building.
  5. Over 600,000 copies of publications, from scholarly texts to posters, distributed by CIHR.
  6. Development of a human rights curriculum for the country's Buddhist schools (which teach Buddhist monks).
  7. Good governance and management seminar/workshops for Cambodia's provincial governors and other officials and local leaders down to grassroots level. These are aimed at teaching officials how to govern effectively in a democratic environment. A major emphasis is the role and responsibilities of officials regarding elections. A related program teaches participants in Cambodia's national development program.