Cambodian Schools Project


This is not a project about politics, or about taking sides, much as we totally condemn the violence that has persisted in Cambodia.  It is a project about restoring the right of children to live a normal life.

Note: All of the pages are set out here as they were written at the time of the visit. In this case, in 2000.


Over the last 25 years, a confused education situation has existed in Anlong Veng and the nearby districts.

Before 1970 there were a few classrooms in a single pagoda. In early 1970, the area became a part of the war front against the Lon Nol regime, and education activities were severely affected by the fighting. The area was occupied by the Khmer Rouge up to 1975, the time of the fall of Phnom Penh.

In the period 1975 to 1979,  the whole country, including Anlong Veng, had no education system, except for ideological training of children which served Khmer Rouge purposes.

After 1979, with the “liberation” of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese, the people in Anlong Veng hoped that they would live in peace, security and stability.  Unfortunately they still had to suffer from continued conflict between the Government and the Khmer Rouge. When the Khmer Rouge lost the war against Vietnam, their forces retreated to the jungle areas such as Pailin, Malai and Anlong Veng.

Thus, from 1978 to 1998 the Anlong Veng area still continued to be the hot battlefield in the struggle between the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Government of various descriptions.

Our involvement, from 1999

We had visited Cambodia on a family vacation in 1994, going to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat for the first time. Not too far away, there was still sporadic fighting going on between the Cambodian Government and the Khmer Rouge. Mainly it consisted of rather opportunistic shelling. In fact, we could hear the occasional shells exploding as we walked through Angkor, on a vivid blue sky day. This gun fire led us to study the history of Cambodia, and in particular most recent events. We decided that we wanted to get involved, to do something about this very sad situation. And in particular we settled on the idea of helping with children’s education.

in 1998, when Pol Pot died, it became clear that we could actually “do something”. Ingrid researched how best to go about supporting reconstruction, and decided we should work with Save the Children. She had flown to London to meet Save the Children (UK), but frankly Cambodia was not one of their project areas. That was the responsibility of Save the Children (Norway).

So, Ingrid visited Cambodia in 1999, with good friend Gwen, and our son Dave, to the Siem Reap area. That was the first time any of us met Sarath, who worked with Save the Children leading their primary education efforts. He was to be the real driver of the project, and became a great friend. Ingrid also met Gunnar Andersen for the first time, who was then the Director of all Save Norway’s Cambodian activities – and who also became a very good friend over the years.

The picture below shows Sarath in 2000, distributing Save’s educational magazine to children in Trapang Prasat.


Ingrid did the initial educational project assessment, talking in depth with Save the Children (Norway) and the Provincial Education Office (PEO). A plan was built to create primary schooling capability in what was now the “reconciliation areas”. The Government had essentially done a deal with the Khmer Rouge, to bring those areas under Government control, end the fighting, and leave the community leaders in place. So the stage was set for the plan to unfold from 2000. At that time only UN or Cambodian agencies were really working in these areas, and Save the Children was just getting started, with Sarath making early reconnaissance visits to the Reconciliation Areas.

What follows is our diary and notes from that time

The situation in 2000

From May 1998 to 2000, the situation in Anlong Veng had been quite calm, and no fighting took place. However, the living conditions of the people were miserable. They lack proper shelter, food, safe drinking water, medicine, latrines and so on. Another dowry of war is a large quantity of land mines covering nearly all of the territory, which prevents agriculture and other income generation. People are killed or injured by mines weekly, especially children.

Most of the people live in small cottages in the forest, although the district government is helping to prepare settled town and market areas. Because of the lack of proper shelter, sanitation and hygiene facilities, the people in the whole community are still affected by malaria, fever, diarrhea and other diseases.

Transportation and communication are also very poor. The distance from one village to another varies between 5 to 15 kilometers, so even local distances are a problem. The distance from Siem Reap (the major town near Angkor Wat) to Anlong Veng is 120 Km. Yet, in the dry season this March, it still took us 5 hours – and we had no interruption by mines. A few weeks ago a bulldozer building the new road was blown up by an anti-tank mine, and the driver seriously injured. In the rainy season, most of the roads are flooded, and passage is almost impossible.

Khmer Rouge education

The Khmer Rouge established their own education system to support their ideology. They saw education as a way to manage and control society. In Anlong Veng, there was a “formal” primary school curriculum developed, including textbooks. These focused on strengthening the children’s knowledge, skills and attitudes on:

  1. producing and setting bamboo traps and mines
  2. being aggressive towards Khmer Rouge enemies
  3. limited fighting skills.

Older children were sent to the front lines to set the traps and mines. We have heard this education first hand. The learning process was clearly designed to strengthen children’s skills to become full soldiers when they were 14, 15 or 16 years old.

The teachers in Anlong Veng used to have 3 tasks:

  1. be a teacher
  2. be a farmer
  3. be a soldier.

There were 3 teachers running one class; one teacher trained children on numeracy and literacy, another trained children on how to produce bamboo traps and local mines, and another trained children on Khmer Rouge ideology. The entire purpose was to turn out children who were dedicated, skillful future soldiers of the Khmer Rouge.

There was great consistency and functionality in the training of these teachers.  Thus, there are teachers today in place who have some of the necessary organization skills, but very little of the appropriate knowledge.  Nevertheless, using these teachers is an important “entry strategy” in the project.

The children living in these marginalized and survival-focused circumstances were subjected to rigid and often barbaric control.  There is much trauma and recall of brutal tactics that were adopted to keep the  population subdued.  Children seem to find it difficult to smile .. see the Trapang Prasat or Anlong Veng photo galleries.

Still, and most importantly, whilst these children lost their childhood, they still managed to survive. These survival skills must also be recognized as an important entry strategy (via prior knowledge) when starting their new formal education.

The bad news

The educational structure is only recently in the process of being established. The proficiency of the local institutions is immature and inadequate. There are hardly any Government funds available for these activities. In term of proficiencies, there are very limited skills to design, plan, implement, facilitate, manage, and organize the project. No cluster school system has been established. The schools, which to some degree are operational only have up to Grade 4. Education staff are unfamiliar with educational working principles, guidelines, policies and administration procedures necessary for educational development. Children lack learning materials, such as writing books, pens, pencils, reading materials etc. There is a lack of basic learning teaching aids, materials and equipment for teachers. There are no library facilities, woefully few classrooms or school buildings, sanitation facilities etc. Few children have access to primary school; and there are many children in the lower school going ages, (about 50 % of 8 – 14 years old) who only learn Grade 1. Malaria and land-mines prevents children from regularly coming to class. Family poverty limits the long term support to children in education.  Parents need their children to help earning income instead of going to school. Many families are illiterate.

The good news

Local authorities and teachers are committed to support the project. The Halo trust, the Cambodian Mine Action Committee (CMAC) and the Provincial Authorities are in the process of clearing the landmines. A small group of teachers in Anlong Veng and Trapang Prasat have the  basic competencies which will enable them to take over Save the Children’s responsibilities after a period of time. The Provincial Education Office (PEO) has staff who are able to implement in-service teacher training, given some technical support from Save the Children. CARERE (a UNDP program) is in the process of developing a program for community development in the Anlong Veng area. Other NGOs are in the process of establishing programs on social and health development.  Medecins sans Frontieres are actively setting up health care. Trapang Prasat has a small clinic.

The teachers

Today, the total number of teachers in the 4 districts is 248. These teachers consist of three types. The majority of these people are former Khmer Rouge “teachers”, who have very little formal knowledge or pedagogical skills.

Second, there are a small number of educated teachers who have a Grade 7 or 8 content base. Unfortunately, these teachers have never had formal “teacher training”. They are volunteer teachers or contract teachers. They moved from other areas to live with their relatives (often former Khmer Rouge) in the Anlong Veng district.

Finally, there are a smaller number of young teachers who under the Khmer Rouge volunteered to be teachers or contract teachers. They are dedicated but have very little formal education and have no formal teacher training.

As the teachers and families have been members of the Khmer Rouge community for so long, and suffered the same disadvantages as the children, there is a clear opportunity to also enhance the self-esteem of the teachers and the communities in general via this development project.


Districts Communes Villages Families Population Children 0-5 years Children 6-15 years Children at school
Anlong Veng 5 47 5,414 26,270 3,328 11,473 1,587
Trapang Prasat 6 37 2,636 13,975 6,495 7,738 4,286
Varin 5 25 3,072 16,568 3,268 5,907 3,341
Angkor Chum 7 84 9,229 50,770 9,058 14,566 4,349
Total 23 193 20,351 107,583 22,149 39,684 13,563

The Project

The project is managed by Norwegian Save the Children (Redd Barna) working cooperatively with the Siem Reap Provincial Education Office and the District Education supervisors.  The Cambodian MOEYS will supply reference materials for teacher and children such as textbooks, teacher manuals etc. Main funding is currently via the Yates family, although we welcome help and participation.

The project aims to prepare children in the “reconciliation” areas now out from under the Khmer Rouge to re-join the mainstream of national education and thus of national society. The project will attempt to re-establish the Rights of the Child not through preaching about Child Rights, but through teaching and empowering children to have the proficiencies to practice these Rights.

This will be done through participatory learning, learning through play, group work, problem solving, and home-school association.  By facilitating learning in this school setting, the larger goal is to reinforce and foster self-dignity and self-respect.

  • Improving the quality and sustainability of the teachers and the teaching program is the focus of the project.
  • An “each one teaches another one” plan will be used, where the first sites for intervention generate new human resources (Teacher Leaders) capable of generating others through their own efforts.
  • The Teacher Leader of one site thus becomes the trainer of another similar site.  Sustainability and self-regulation will thus be achieved.
  • Phasing in and phasing out of all activities is integral to the sustainable design. This transcends the phasing in / out of Save the Children and extends to the “partners of partners” (i.e., the local authorities and the local Teacher Leaders, who teach others).  At each step new owners will take over the authority and responsibility for the activities with the children. The aim is a self-generating, self-leading educational system which gets rapid results.
  • Educational interventions will take into account the children’s unique survival proficiencies, and their accompanying knowledge, skills and attitudes.
  • The project will form a functional District schooling base on which to gradually establish convergence with the new curricula and textbooks of the Cambodian Ministry of Education Youth and Sport (MOEYS).
  • A clear objective is to demonstrate a viable model to re-apply quickly to other areas suffering similar problems.
  • The project will run from 2000 to 2003.

By the way, remember the friend we mentioned in The Cambodian Tragedy?  His name is Sarath, and he is leading this project for Save the Children. He has dedicated his life to improving the lives of his fellow Cambodians.   

Project targets

In 2000, the project will focus on building infrastructure in Trapang Prasat, and teacher education in Anlong Veng. This reflects the relatively advanced state of building in Anlong Veng, although school attendance is lower than Trapang Prasat.. In 2001, we hope to make progress in Varin and Angkor Chum.

Over the three year program, the goals for all 4 districts are:

  1. At least 50 % of the total number of 6 – 14 years old children gain access to primary school.
  2. The Provincial education Office people will be trained in the appropriate administrative, reporting and development techniques.
  3. Educational mobile teams will be set up in Anlong Veng, Trapang Prasat, Varin and Angkor Chum.  Each will have a clear structure, role and set of responsibilities to help provide regular in-service teacher training.
  4. Supervisors at the Provincial Education Office will have structured cooperation with the District educational supervisors to continually improve the program.
  5. All schools will have a school development and implementation plan.
  6. Each school will have a school support committee from the community.
  7. The Provincial Education Office will conduct workshops on school planning for district education staff and school head teachers.
  8. All teachers will be familiar in the use of new textbooks, teacher manuals and guide-books on how to use the new textbooks to prepare classes. Workshops will be run on a continuous basis to facilitate this.
  9. Teachers will have lesson plans, with 3 levels of questions, factual recall, comprehension and application that reflect the intended learning outcomes.
  10. Teachers will use the school-home relationship book and child progress books as tools to communicate with parents.
  11. Teachers will apply basic “child friendly” methodologies in all teaching activities.
  12. There will be a regular technical “Thursday Meeting” at school to help teachers to support children who have learning difficulties.
  13. Children and teachers will write storybooks for other children, teachers and supervisors to facilitate wider knowledge and speed up community involvement.
  14. 3 core librarians from each district will be trained on library management and administration.
  15. Libraries will be established at each school, including reference materials and basic equipment for supporting the learning teaching activities.
  16. At least  5 classrooms and 1 library will be built for each core school, with the appropriate furniture. Also 1 toilet and 1 well will be built for each school. Satellite (“cluster”) schools will be built as appropriate to bring the education to the children, to eliminate travelling.
  17. Data will be collected related to children learning such as: total number of children, access to school, disabled children, living condition of families, school infrastructure, school activities etc. to aid program development.
  18. The Provincial Education Office of Siem Reap will document the experience and share with MOEYS, and the PEOs of other provinces (Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kompong Chhnang, Kompot, and Pursat) that also have “reconciliation” areas.
 The 2002 project report from Save the Children (Norway) who administered the program is here.