A classroom forum on the history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) was held at Thlat Secondary School on October 16, 2019. Thirty-two students (21 female) participated, many claimed that it was their first time discussing the Democratic Kampuchea formally in a classroom, and that they rarely hear about it from their parents or neighbors.
With close collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and support from the school itself, the forum was conducted as part of Anlong Veng Peace Center’s efforts to raise public awareness about the history of Democratic Kampuchea. The goal was also to promote peace, memory and reconciliation in the former final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge.
Approximately eight kilometers from the district downtown, Thlat secondary school can be seen on the left-hand side. On that day, students in school uniforms enjoyed their break at the playground. Upon arrival, Mr. Khorn Koy, the school principal, organized 32 students from grades 8th and 9th to attend the session. Others in causal, colorful dresses were there to fulfill their weekly labor work for school. On this occasion, Mr Koy said the school program should serve as a stark reminder of the school and compound’s past. He said the once densely forested area with no accessible road had been subsequently turned into a primary school, and then into a secondary school in 2006. This reminded Mr. Koeun Sin, 30 years old, of the lethal challenges facing those living there. The history teacher said sometimes, cattle and also villagers lost their lives because of the mines and unexploded ordinances. The school serves as an educational platform for 122 students from the nearby villages of Thlat commune, Anlong Veng district.
Next, the school principal and his colleagues brought us to the classroom where the students waited. Everyone wanted us to start right away. After a short introduction, it took 20 minutes to conduct the pre-teaching surveys which evaluated the participants’ knowledge and understanding of the KR history.
After that, a student-centered teaching approach, a K-W-L chart, was used to involve each student in the learning process. Students were asked to fill in the “K” column, about what they knew about the KR period, some raised their hands and gave a series of answers that complimented each other. Aom A-Muoy, 14 years old, said she her uncle had told her about the torture, overwork, imprisonment, and killings that occurred during that time. Other students shared that they knew about forced evacuations, starvation, family separations, and torture. Chim Kunea, 15 years old, said she viewed the deep inquiry into the daily life and torture of the people as an extremely valuable addition to her studies.
Then, each student wrote down what they wanted to know on this topic. Among the 32 students, six questions focused on common inquiries such as: “daily life during the KR period,” “the nature of torture being carried out,” “overwork, which cost so many lives,” “the internal fighting among the KR establishments,” and “the KR’s governing body that caused mass killings.” Before responding to these questions, all the students were required to read about the early birth of the communist movement in Cambodia and worked in groups focusing on other topics. The forum lasted about 2 hours.
Although the two-hour forum was short, for some of the participants it became a trigger to explore the topic more. Chim Kunnea, 14 years old, acknowledged she had learned a lot, but wanted to go deeper into the KR’s barbarity and torture. Srey Neang, 13 years old, and Yea Sieng Hak, 15 years old, made similar claims, saying that they both did not pay attention to the history before this. Srey Neang elaborated further that her relatives lived through that period but were not willing to share details with her. Unlike Srey Neang, Un Sreyto found her parents more responsive to her curiosity. Her parents told her narratives about the KR’s barbarity, torture, and killings. Both her and her friend, Chhean Sreynith, 14 years old, claimed they valued the inter-generational dialogue the most, noting that it enriched their understanding of the history. However, a barrier to such further research exists.
Mr. Sin accepts the educational barrier. He reiterated that the lack of sufficient documents for research and teaching limits his ability to provide more comprehensive lessons to his students. Now, his approach is to interview people who lived through it. He also encouraged his students to do the same.
As shown in the surveys, all the students found the forum useful and forty-one percent thought that it improves their knowledge. However, only thirteen percent emphasized they could memorize KR history from the forum.
APPENDIX I: SURVEY RESULTS
By: Sout Vechet
APPENDIX II: Photo link
APPENDIX III: Students’ list
|No.||Name||Sex||Grade||Date of Birth|
|1||Hoan Sok Meng||M||9||10-11-2005|
|5||Chhun Akrun Sambath||M||9||21-05-2006|
|9||Torn Srei Khe||F||9||05-08-2006|
|17||Khiev Kim Heng||F||9||15-09-2006|
|22||Sorn Roath Thoeun||F||9||18-06-2005|
|25||Hem Tuon Tei||F||8||07-10-2006|
|26||Yea Sieng Hak||F||8||24-08-2005|
|32||Sorn Sokh Chea||F||8||10-06-2005|
DONOR: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
TEAM: Mek Navin, Ly Sok-Kheang & Hean Pisey
REPORT: Ly Sok-Kheang