Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reflection on Teaching and Learning at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia

Reflection on Teaching and Learning at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia

“Nations will march towards their greatness in the direction given by its education. Nations will soar if its education soars; will regress if it regresses. Nations will fall and sink in darkness if education is corrupted or completely abandoned,” said Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), a South American Liberator.

The key to the future is in the hands of the students of Cambodia. But, to use that key they must work hard and be supported and nurtured by the educational institutions of their homeland. They deserve the very best education, but they must be willing to fully participate in the process. I want to do my part. I want to give and share something priceless, the gift of learning. I want to fulfill my social responsibility to assist the young generation becomes responsible learners and develop their full potential. I want to help these young scholars find their role in making a lasting contribution to Cambodia’s future. These fully educated students are future leaders, key decisions makers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, managers, economists, entrepreneurs, artists, writers and intellectuals through whose contribution we will see Cambodia prosper and flourish. These young scholars have a gift to give us and the world if only we help them along the way.

"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others, and if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them," said Dalai Lama. I have tried to live this tenet by providing quality education to the poor and destitute children at Buddhism Education For Peace Center at Wat Unnalum and now by lecturing at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia (PUC). I wholeheartedly want to express my kataññū katavedī (gratefulness and humility) to Dr. Kol Pheng, PUC Founding Father, for offering me the unique opportunity to make a positive difference. I have been assigned to work with students and faculty in order to make lasting contributions to my beloved country. I teach English Communication, Introducing Cultural Anthropology, Introduction to Ethics, Academic Reading and Writing English, and Fundamentals of Communication to the foundation year students; a good number of them are well off. Most importantly, though, I teach those young scholars to think, to solve problems, to view new situations by acquiring and using knowledge, facts, and techniques. I firmly believe all of them can learn, and they learn more by encouraging their interests. I understand first-hand the great needs our students and programs experience. At the same time, I also witness the full impact PUC education can have on our students and our society.

My task at the university is to set the course, not to steer the ship for the young intellectuals of Cambodia. More specifically, I focus on student innate personal strength, developing critical and creative thinking, establishing integrated learning, instilling academic growth, and helping to develop relevant teaching materials. I also provide input on curriculum and assessment designs on the specifics of student learning that faculty most value and that reflect using what one knows presently. Furthermore, I propose that while the conventional interactions among faculty are rewarding and comforting, there is a need to move from interesting conversations to intentionally planning as a basis for developing a solid foundation for collaborative work. New faculty orientation and initial training, regular staff meeting and development, curriculum planning workshop, and faculty retreat must take place on a regular basis to weave together approaches to teaching, learning, assessment, and curricular design. I hope through these efforts, we are founding a learning community through partnership with all faculty members.

As idealistic as I am, I am also a realist. I encounter many ‘cultural’ difficulties (lack of culture of learning) and intricate challenges (different learners cultural background). I constantly look for creative, and subtle ways to achieve my objectives by focusing on my teaching approach, classroom management, and using practical research based solutions to learning (integrated learning for students). I try to create a learning ‘milieu’ where the educational environment should be a caring, nurturing, yet challenging place in which all students feel free, safe, and comfortable to express views, ask questions, and seek answers without fear of rejection or criticism. All my instructions and assessments are organized around the students’ needs, abilities, skills, interests and intended outcomes. After all, what students understand and how well they understand it is deeply connected to my teaching practices (Gillies Malnarich and Emily Decker Lardner, Designing Integrated Learning for Students, Winter 2003).

Teaching at the university level gives me an ample opportunity to learn about the higher educational system in Cambodia where most students are passive recipients of knowledge and skills. They are capable but unwilling to put in the hard work required at the university level. Most of them are lack of intrinsic motivation. They wait for an instructor to tell them what to do, study, and act. They wait for me to tell them what to learn and follow. They copy everything I write on the white board. They are dependent learners. In the instant gratification Cambodian society, they have forgotten that anything valuable takes time to produce. I believe that who they want become is formed by key components and elements that take years, decades, and lifetimes to perfect. Good study habits, morality, ‘ethical’ character and integrity don't materialize overnight, especially in today’s polluted Cambodian society where the immoral become acceptable and the impossible become possible (bribery). I constantly remind them there are no shortcuts and no substitution to hard work and creativity. Those skills must be learned and built step-by-step, stone-by-stone, and instance-by-instance over time. They must learn to do the right things. They must understand and value the importance of hard work, disciplines, and strong determination (adhitthāna). After all, the majestic temple of Angkor Wat wasn’t built in a day, neither is their good reputation, their honor and their moral character.

As an academic lecturer at PUC, I believe that all students are capable of accomplishing greatness, but few ever do. Only them know what they are capable of achieving. According to Buddha, they are their own master (in learning); they make their own future (Attā hi attano nātho. Attā hi attano gatti). I have noticed while most students are eager and capable to learn, they also carry some negative values and futile habits that allow the culture of cheating and dishonesty to thrive when they move to university. I believe they lack a sense of integrity and pride in academia because they live in a corrupted society that does not value real education (hard earned diploma). For instance, very few value the importance of reading and writing. A good number of them often miss classes or arrive late. They come unprepared because they are not taught to read the required textbook and supplemental materials prior to class, which are part of real and advanced learning. They frequently fail to complete their necessary assignments to master the subject. Most of them are capable but unwilling to put in the hours and the dedication. They believe the best way to get good grades is not through hard work but through cheating and personal connection. They seem unwilling to study hard and persevere. If they don't change their attitudes about the value of knowledge and learning they will be left behind. They must be taught that no life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, and disciplines.

Those habits and work ethic have grave consequences. It will make students’ higher education worthless and reflect on the poor quality of education and the human resources. There is a real cost to this behavior. Will investors want to invest in a country with a sub-standard work force? I think not. The effect to our national development, economy and general wellbeing are at risk with the lack of quality of our human resources. These poor ethical work habits must be transformed and replaced with the culture of hard work and developing the right attitude to achieve their desired goal. Students learn what they study, and how much they learn in large measure determined by how much time they are engaged in that study. They must recognize and abide that reading and writing assignments, homework, class participation, research, exams, and all the other difficult parts of learning are essential and necessary. They must understand that results don’t just happen they are the product of time, energy, and commitment.

We, as educators, parents, government officials and citizens must do what we can to improve both the cultural as well as the practical aspect of education. We must strive to coordinate our efforts, to help each other improve our teaching methods. We must work with parents to give them better tools to motivate their children and show them that getting a college education is a path and key to success. I applaud the government stand on wanting to improve the quality of higher education (tertiary education) and capacity building project (World Bank Project). We must all recognize that without an educated and competent workforce, Cambodia cannot compete on an equal scale with our neighbors. Providing quality education for all is one of the most important developmental tools to combat poverty, promote prosperity, and create a better Cambodia where inequality and lack of opportunity devastate families, hamper growth and cause instability. As citizens, we must demand from our government as well as our higher educational institutions a commitment to knowledge, rational and critical thinking. We need to do better to support these young scholars personal and intellectual development if we do not want to sink further into darkness and despair. Students are the seeds and we are the soil. No matter how vigorous the seeds are, if the soil does not provide nourishment of the heart and mind, the seeds will not grow and flourish.

Buddha once said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” I believe the primary function of education is to not only imparting knowledge, but also to supporting and developing students’ innate wisdom (paññā) throughout the entire time they are in school. I also believe good teaching never comes from fear or force. The best teaching sermons are lived not preached. Often, in a classroom setting, the instructor makes decisions regarding the information that is covered and the skills that are developed. However, I think students learn best when they can be part of decisions regarding what materials or strategies should or should not be taught. Learners should be full participants and engage in the learning process. Decisions should be made with the learners, not for the learners. All the contents and activities will be learner-centered. Students need to gain their own skills not just see a demonstration of the skills an instructor possesses. They ought to be able to use what they know as evidence of learning.

At the university, we need these students to be the best they can be. And that means making Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia the best it can be. We must work on developing a wide range of creative solutions together using learner-center approach, combined with communicative method and resiliency. This kind of teaching is different from traditional education. To develop responsible learners, one must listen to the students’ interests. Listening is learning. Consequently, listening to students will prompt the students to begin to listen to teachers and teachers begin to listen to students. From this great mutual understanding and respect develop. Students will learn to manage their learning, discover their own learning needs, think and problem solve by themselves. They will begin to see the whole picture. They become proactive learners, self-motivated, and competent lifelong learners. Furthermore, since learning is an inside job, I encourage students to explore, experiment, reflect and answer their own questions through critical thinking activities. After students become convinced through resilient strengths they have what it takes to succeed; they persevere in the face of adversity and rebound from setbacks, emerge stronger and become self directed. This way, they learn how to think and believe in themselves. Then, real learning and understanding start taking root; students learn to make good choices and start being accountable and responsible for their own behaviors (check my article on “Liberating Education”). In that case, according to the Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire, "Education is a constant process for the liberation of human beings.”

Academic life is fascinating and challenging. While teaching at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia is a rewarding experience; working with the youngsters and faculty is a paradox where the “Commitment to Excellence” (PUC’s slogan and ideal culture) and the lack of standards, discipline and learning values among students clash. The wonderful opportunity to share my knowledge with students, make new friends, and establish collegial relationships in my own country is always fulfilling, professionally and personally. I hope that this exercise will serve as a means to communicate a reflective inquiry for enhancing the quality of higher education, offer suggestions and possible solutions to the critical problems Cambodia faces such as:

• Strengthening institutional capacities,
• Improving university management and governance,
• Providing a living wage for faculty and incentive,
• Delivering high quality education through heuristic teaching and learning,
• Supporting higher caliber research activities,
• Providing integrative experiences of learning to students,
• Designing substantive curriculum and assessments,
• Modernizing buildings, libraries and classrooms to improve efficiency
• Using relevant textbooks and latest information technology,
• Investing in training and professional development
• Involving parents, community members and all stakeholders.

The views, opinions, and interpretations expressed in this paper are personal and not reflective of others. They are only intended to reflect on my own experience so that others may learn from my efforts.

May the next generation of Khmer students grow up to be an ideal generation with the seed of Dhamma (natural and capable sentient being). May all experience the joy of ‘integrated’ learning (pariyatti and patipatti).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

True Leader


This is an old Chinese poem that offers wonderful advice for our current leader:

GO to the people
(instead the people go to our leader)
LIVE among the people (Our leader lives luxuriously among themselves)

LEARN from them (Our leader knows everything)

LOVE them (Our leader loves power)
START with what they know (Our leader starts with what he knows)
BUILD on what they have (Our leader builds on having more power)

But of the BEST leaders, 

When their TASK is accomplished, 

Their WORK is done, 

The PEOPLE will remark,
"WE HAVE DONE IT OURSELVES." (Our leader has done everything it himself).

Good never comes from force

Picture by a fourth grade student Srey Chonineath in CAmbodia

The longer I stay In cambodia the more I realize that "Good never comes from from force as stated by Venarable master Fa Thai:

When your own home is healthy and happy, others will come to you. It’s like being a good cook, a good teacher, or a good leader. If you are good, you never have to force your food, force your lessons, or force your directions, on others. Good cannot from force.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Shocking Stampede Tragedy at Koh Pich Bridge

Images of Koh Pich Bridge, Group meditation at Koh Pich to alleviate the suffering, Praying ceremony for the victims and their loved ones at Pannasastra University of Cambodia

The Shocking Stampede Tragedy at Koh Pich Bridge

To those who lost their life or sustained horrific injuries at Koh Pich on 22nd November, I wish to express my heartfelt sympathy and deepest sorrow and to their loved ones. I share their indescribable pain and suffering and I join my hands over my head to pray for every affected fellow citizen.

In Cambodia, I don’t try to understand everything; some things will just never make sense. It is a country where the impossible become possible, the immoral become acceptable, and the insane become normal; just look and think at the findings so far (The Cambodia Daily Saturday-Sunday November 27-28, 2010: After Koh Pich, Resignation Looking Unlikely) by the independent investigating body for the indirect massacre which claimed 351 lives on Koh Pich bridge by the latest count which changes almost daily. The committee has so far lain the blame on the deceased and injured victims. Is it the right approach to be pointing fingers at the real victims and avoid exposing the whole story and the truth of the negligence, failure and the irresponsibility of the event organizers, the police and the city officials to control the flow of the crowd? Is this how the present system works? Is the culture of blaming others continues to rule Cambodia? Can this predictable tragedy be preventable? The facts speak louder than words.

I would like to share a classic story about four people named Anybody, Everybody, Somebody, and Nobody. There was a very important task to find the root cause of the incident for the country and the people, and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it is Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

The message here is everyone blames everybody (except themselves of course) and fails to take and fulfill their responsibility for their duties and obligations to protect the lives of the innocent people. Besides the financial compensation to the family members of the victims, the people of Cambodia and the international community deserve a better and complete explanation. The extent of the tremendous suffering affects the whole nation and the world. The cost of 351 lives cannot be simply tagged as a bitter lesson, case study, an experimental and learning experience to prepare better for next year’s event. The nation and the soul of the 351 lives cannot be fully rested until the special committee to oversee the government’s response and investigation into the last day of the Water Festival’s shocking stampede on Koh Pich bridge finds the culprits, and the real and acceptable causes of the devastating disaster. May all see the truth of what really happened.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Duch Verdict on 26/7/2010 delivers Only Partial Justice

Crowd gathered at the entrance of the ECCC

This is my complete reflection on Duch Verdict on 26/7/2010

All distinguished members of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)—both Cambodian and international—deserve praise for their achievement and contribution in bringing the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to its first verdict. Despite the intricacies and the difficulties of the task, there has been a huge amount of work accomplished through the professional effort and collaboration of all involved.

As a silent victim in search of the truth and justice, I went to the ECCC to experience firsthand the delivery of the verdict on the trial of former S-21 (Toul Sleng) prison chief AING Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch. In the court chamber, I sat alongside more than 500 observers to personally witness the hybrid justice proceeding. It was a moving experience and historic event for all the victims, who have waited more than 30 years to experience some sort justice for the thousands upon thousands of Cambodians who were detained, tortured and executed under Duch’s command. For his role in these atrocities, Duch stood trial for intentional murder, torture, one case of rape, illegal imprisonment, mass execution and other sadistic acts. Found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Duch was convicted and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. However, according to the court decision, he will serve only 19 years in prison because he has already spent 11 years in pre-trial detention and received another five years clemency for cooperating with the court.

I have long anticipated the response that this verdict would elicit. Yet, when the president of the trial chamber, Judge Nil Nonn, summarized Duch’s crimes and announced the reduction of his sentence, I felt doubtful that most Cambodians would understand and accept these legal concessions to Duch. When it registered that Duch would serve a mere 19 years—or as one lawyer now famously characterized it, a meager 11 ½ hours for every life that he stole—I predicted that this leniency would be difficult for the victims’ families and the broader Cambodian public to comprehend.

This pursuit of justice, however incomplete, is at least the first step toward establishing a historical record of truth, admitting guilt, and perhaps pursuing some type of reconciliation and healing. But national and international victims still have many questions. There are concerns that due to lack of funds and the old age of the KR leaders awaiting on trial, the ECCC should complete its term and find tangible justice as soon as possible. Time and funding are of the main essence: will the due process of justice in which the investigation process alone to build up Case Two can take months, if years, to complete be too little, too late? What is the view of the donors in trying to gather wider support from the international community, especially from the United States and China? What is the budgeting prospect beyond 2010? These are just the logistic concerns—what about broader issues of societal perceptions and future directions? How might this hybrid court promote accountability and human security in general, particularly in relation to Cambodia embracing the principle of responsibility to protect (R2P)? How might the ECCC end impunity, promote national reconciliation, deter future atrocities, and finally contribute to building an accountable local judiciary that is legitimate in the eye and the feelings of the victims? At the end of the KRT process, will Cambodians experience and internalize a sense of justice? Will the ECCC satisfy the Khmer people’s emotional feeling that justice is finally served, particularly when it seemingly offers lenient sentences and distills the whole of the Khmer Rouge’s guilt to the trial of only a few individual leaders?

At the end of this first verdict, I feel that the ECCC succeeded in establishing a record of truth of the mass killings, but failed to satisfy the survivors’ emotional feeling of justice with the shortening of Duch’s prison term. Justice is not just delivered, it is experienced. Khmer people place moral value in the hope that the verdict would release them internally, emotionally. From my observations, for Cambodian victims, justice was not fully served. For the Khmer Rouge survivors, this ruling does not completely acknowledge the scale and perversity of the violations. More work and fuller understanding of the victims’ side are necessary if the ECCC is to deliver a real justice, end impunity, and promote national reconciliation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Duch's Verdict

My Brother and I in front of the entrance of ECCC

Duch’s Verdict on 26/7/2010

I just came back from the delivery verdict of AING Guek Eav, also known as Duch at ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia). First, I want to acknowledge and congratulate all the distinguished members of the ECCC both from Cambodia and from many countries for the achievement and contribution in bringing the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to present day. Despite the difficulty and intricacy in the past, there has been huge amount of work accomplished through the professional effort and collaboration of all involved.

In the court chamber, I personally witnessed the hybrid justice proceeding live with more than 500 people, most of them are victims. It was a moving experience and historic event for all the victims to wait more than 30 years to finally having some sort of justice. Duch was convicted of intentional murder, torture, rape, crimes against humanity and sentenced to 35 years. Moreover, according to the decision, he actually serves 19 years in prison because he has already spent 11 years in detention and got another five more years credit for cooperating with the court.

After today’s judgment, as a victim I am doubtful that most Cambodian understands and accepts the reasons of these credits. There still are many unanswered questions for the national and international victims but this piece of justice is at least the first step toward the truth, admission of guilt, perhaps reconciliation and healing. At the end, I think that the ECCC provided the truth of the mass killings but failed to satisfy the survivors’ emotional feeling with the shortening of Duch's prison term. Justice for the Khmer victims was not completely and fully served. More works and right understanding of the victims’ side must take into full consideration if ECCC wants to put a closure on finding real justice, end impunity, and promote national reconciliation.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wealth Disparity and Inequality

Pictures of the poor

Wealth Disparity and Inequality

As a Cambodian, I understand there are no quick fixes to the issues wealth disparity and inequality. The recent development, the luxurious buildings and the city life in Phnom-Penh design to create the image of a good life but do not reflect reality for most people. According to the UN report on local development (The Cambodia Daily, 1st July 2010), 3.7 million people estimated to be living below the poverty threshold, and only ten percent of the rural population owns a title of their land. Yet, those people also want decent housings, clean water, good sewage, and electricity. They want justice. They want basic health care. They want education. They want a piece land to grow their crops. They see poverty worsening, corruption spreading, and inefficiency rampant. The widening gap between the rich and the poor expands and rising inequality persists to the highest level. It is pity and heartbreaking that our present government doesn’t acknowledge the problem and try to find the real solutions. Here, once again the government is more interested in assigning blame than fixing problems for the poor. The leader doesn’t seem to acknowledge and grasp the legitimate issues raised by the UN, let alone be genuinely prepared to make the right and strategic decisions to help those really in desperate needs by looking into the validity and recommendation of the report. As we all know actions always speak louder than words and what the poor needed now is concrete actions. May ALL see the truth of what really happened.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Liberating Education

Liberating Education
"Education is a constant process for the liberation of human beings.”- Paulo Freire (1921–1997) Brazilian educator and activist.

In Cambodia, each student has a different educational background and in general, most students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do, study, learn, and act. Many teachers have tendency to take the curriculum from other countries and just copy them, having the students study whatever is listed in those course books without really engaging them in critical thinking. In the big picture, most people wait for a leader to tell them what to do. They all wait for the master to tell them what to do and follow. This approach is teacher centered instead of focusing on the development and nurturing of each student unique capacities and personal characteristics to help them attain authenticity and self-actualization. This approach as a whole also creates intellectual dependency and lack of innovative ideas as well freedom to think creatively. It encourages hard work, but oppresses creativity and innovative thoughts. Teacher holds the key to learning. Students are passive. They act as the recipients to knowledge, skills, and understandings.

Many of our religious, political, social and moral beliefs are beliefs that we are accepted as children before we could question them, and understand the reasons behind them. The aim here is not to reject but to understand and to learn good reasons to continue holding after personal observation and analysis. Furthermore, Cambodian culture believes in authority, hierarchy and tradition. People all grow up in the narrow world of our parents and friends, a small place where their views, beliefs, and values become ours through the process sociologists call primary socialization. I believe only education gives us the opportunity to free ourselves from the accident of our birth in a particular time, place, environment, and family. It broadens our horizons and helps us to become productive members of the humankind. Education is then freedom and liberation.

Is education a form of indoctrination? Why do we go through the struggle to be educated? Is it merely in order to pass the exam and get a job? Or is it the function of education to prepare us while we are young to understand the whole process of life? In developed nations, we teach people that it’s all right to question, to challenge authority on logical, moral, or other reasonable grounds. Freedom is not only being allowed to do that, it is also learning the skills needed to do it well. Learning to be a critical thinker is what a liberal education should be about. Then we can determine by ourselves truth and falsity, good and evil, and not behave like unthinking sheep in a herd. That something is our belief in reason, in having good evidence for our claims, in open-mindset, and in critical thinking.

I advocate a liberating education where knowledge leads to reflection, introspection and action where school is a place for learning, making mistakes, growing and creating memories, but not worrying. Liberating education is based in acts of cognition, not transfers of information. It encourages critical and creative thinking, debate and dialogues on real issues, even controversial ones, so that people can stand or take sides. Conflicts are resolved not by imposing the majority will upon all people, but by genuine dialogues between groups. Participants are encouraged to take stand on issues. The purpose of such fundamental change in the social order is to achieve justice and peace. I believe “right knowledge is power.” It enables people to overcome injustice, poverty, and fear and to handle all of the daily decisions they face that have a direct impact on their quality of life. The knowledge they impart may result in a new awareness of their social situation with its exploitation and oppression. In this case, new knowledge is not simply added to the existing body of knowledge but rather transforming the persons and culture by the use of knowledge. Education is then the transformation of self through possessing knowledge. It relates learning to practice, thus bringing theory and actions.

Students learn through experience and construct their reality based on their experiences. They are encouraged to seek the truth by asking more why rather than how’s to do it. In this sense, education invites students and teachers to put their learning and teaching into action for social development and justice. The curriculum is based more on the learner or student center. What does the student want to learn versus what does the teacher wants to teach? In the liberating education curriculum, students learn best by reflection and experience and least by copying and imitating.

As teachers, we can teach more than the subject. We can even cover much more than the rigor of critical thinking; we can cover life and how to live life with dignity, respect and honor. We can teach the students to believe in their own abilities and to have faith in what they could achieve with hard work and dedication to learning. Students learn to accept responsibility for their own life. They know that it is them who will get where they want to go, no one else. They need to investigate life. Where they are today, what they’ve accomplished in their life, and who they will become in the future is determined by one person; their own self! Once they grasp that concept, they take the first steps toward empowering themselves to become the person they’ve always longed to be. They understand the whole process of life. They are free to pursue their own vision of good life by accepting their own responsibility

Parker Palmer, an author, educator, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change, expresses eloquently in the Aim of Education Revisited: "If higher education is to serve human purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize that we know and take responsibility for it."

I argue the only lasting education is one that promotes higher modes of thoughts and moral actions not just storage of facts. In my view, the kinds of minds we will need to cultivate in the future are:
1. The disciplined mind masters bodies of knowledge and skill.
2. The synthesizing mind decides what most important and puts knowledge together in useful ways.
3. The creative mind ventures regularly into new, unexploited territory.
4. The respectful mind prizes diversity and tries to work effectively with individuals of all background.
5. The ethical mind proceeds from principles. It seeks to act in ways that serve the wider and just society.

May the next generation of Khmer people grow up to become a well-rounded, knowledgeable and moral human being through liberating education.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What have I learned?

Sunrise at Bakheng Temple

Sunset at Sihanoukville

What have I learned?

In my life:

1. I’ve learned it takes me a long time to become the person I want to be.
2. I’ve learned the best contribution I can make to humanity is to improve and develop myself.
3. I’ve learned to be a volunteer teacher; I am free to do more for my country and the people from all the working for money restraints.
4. I’ve learned my life will not go according to plan if I don't have a plan.
5. I’ve learned that I can’t pay somebody to practice for me.
6. I’ve learned to accept the injustice of life.
7. I’ve learned that if I wait until all conditions are perfect, I’ll never act.
8. I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.
9. I’ve learned that it is easier to keep up than to catch up.
10. I’ve learned that I have to “BE” first before I can “DO”, and “DO” before I can “HAVE”.
11. I’ve learned that TRUST is the most important factor in both personal and professional relationship.
12. I’ve learned that kindness is the language of the dumb can speak and the deaf can hear and understand.
13. I’ve learned that making a life is more important than making a living.
14. I've learned that life sometimes gives me a second and may be a third chance.
15. I’ve learned that it is impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile without the help of others and a little luck.
16. I’ve learned what works and what is not working for me?
17. I’ve learned that no life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined
18. I’ve learned that there is always someone who cares about me.
19. I’ve learned that people treat me the way I allow them to treat me.
20. I’ve learned that I can’t please SOME people, no matter what I do.
21. I’ve learned that I should make the ‘little’ decision with my head and the ‘big’ decision with my heart.
22. I’ve learned that real teaching is not the subject I am teaching, but the people I am teaching.
23. I’ve learned to be good at kids watching.
24. I’ve learned to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
25. I’ve learned everyone can be great.
26. I’ve learned everything I teach should have a context and should be relevant.
27. I’ve learned I don’t owe the future a brighter people but I do owe our people a brighter future.
28. I’ve learned if I always do what I always did, I always get what I always got.
29. I’ve learned when there is faith there is hope.
30. I’ve learned that I shouldn’t look back except to learn.
31. I’ve learned the shortest answer is doing.
32. I’ve learned nothing great was ever achieved without endurance and enthusiasm.
33. I’ve learned to be content with I am rather than what I have.
34. I’ve learned the world will not value me until I value myself.
35. I’ve learned whatever is worth doing is worth doing it right.
36. I’ve learned that I have to do things I don’t like.
37. I’ve learned that no one is free when others are oppressed.
38. I’ve learned to oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible.
39. I’ve learned if there is any peace, it will come from being, not having.
40. I’ve learned that no one can do this work for me.
41. I’ve learned the love money and material wealth is the source of all evils.
42. I’ve learned that life’s most important question is what am I doing for others?
43. I’ve learned my darkness well enough that I can sit in the darkness with others.
44. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
45. I’ve learned to live simply and humbly.
46. I’ve learned to love unconditionally.
47. I’ve learned to care deeply.
48. I’ve learned to give generously.
49. I’ve learned to speak only the truth.
50. I’ve learned to teach compassionately.
51. I’ve learned to be me because everything is taken.
52. I’ve learned that change makes all things possible.
53. I’ve learned happiness never decreased when shared.
54. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Importance of Reading and Writing

Students at Pannasastra University of Cambodia practice writing

Reading to students at "BambooShoot School"

The Importance of Reading and Writing
“If you don’t know how to read and write, it doesn’t matter how creative you are,”- Bill Gates.

I am not sure what kind of reader and writer you are, I want to share and explain how reading and writing have affected my life. I read and write everywhere I go. I read and I write when I study. I read and I write when I work (I teach). I read and I write when I stay home. I read and I write when I go on vacations. I read and I write every day. I read because I want to learn what I need. I write because I want to share what I know with others.

Reading is a multidimensional, dynamic process that involves thinking and responding, not only based on fluency and accuracy but also on discovering and understanding the power of language and communication. Reading is about making sense of my life and my world. It is about what I want to read when I need to know something or do something. There is no frigate like a book to take me lands away. I view reading as a pleasurable activity–as a source of entertainment and useful and interesting factual information. I receive great pleasure and satisfaction from burying myself in a Dhamma book. Reading has opened the door and the window for me. Reading can be thought of as preparation for a very important race. To me, reading is the single most important obstacle to academic success.

Writing exercises my mind to express thoughts, ideas and opinions. I admit writing is not easy, but rewarding. I write because I want a place to record my life experience and create something that I could look back on and laugh, cry and reminisce. Writing to me become more and more than a place to record my daily life experience, my thoughts. The papers I wrote become my friend; they were made and willing to accept anything and everything I had to say and feel. It could handle my questions, my sadness, my fear, my opportunity, and my joys. I discovered the beauty of writing – when I can pour myself onto white sheet of emptiness and fill it with emotions, ideas and thoughts and leave them there forever. It became a type of therapy for me for dealing with everything that was going on with my life, my country and humanity as a whole. If I want a reflective message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, I have to keep putting oil in it.

To all youngsters, I challenge and encourage you to read and write everyday. The more you read and the more you write the better you become. You become better reader by reading. You become better writer by writing. No one can do this for you. Reading and writing are your best investments in your future. They will bring you success in everything you want to be, you want to do and you want to have. Reading and writing are just like air. You don’t see but you need it to live in today’s world. Have fun reading and writing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Black Economy in Cambodia

The faces of the poor people in Cambodia affected by the black economy in Cambodia

The Black Economy in Cambodia
“The misery of my people is greater than my misery,” - Jayavarman VII (1181-1218)

Character isn’t something people were born with and can’t change, like fingerprints. It’s something that people weren’t born with and must take responsibility for developing and forming. With this thought, I want to talk about excessive corruption in Cambodia, the main character of the black economy formed by the corrupted leaders, and their powerful entourage. Here, I am only interested in fixing the problem rather than assigning blame.

Unwarranted corruption has undeniably been one of the Cambodia’s main stumbling blocks to sustainable development and fighting poverty. Corruption matters and becomes the main character. It creates a lasting impression in the heart and the mind of the people of Cambodia especially the poor. Studies show that there is a strong correlation between education and economic growth in developing countries. With strong roots, the trees will provide good shade and abundant fruits for all to enjoy.

On the surface everything is in order, decisions are carried out, lives moves on, the markets are crowded, the streets are packed with motodups and cars, the city is full of activities, and the ship sails along. But where is it heading? The sailors are rowing without seeing anything, the lower ranking officers are holding their eyes up to the leadership, but the leaders are not capable of seeing past each coming, rising and tumbling wave because money is the new and real king. Even free services cost money. Schools, fire services, hospitals, the police, the army, the government officials, media reporters, the judiciary all began to demand bribes for their “supposed to be free” services. One can argue that poverty is the root cause of corruption while others say corruption the root cause of poverty. However one thing is certain that lack of education is the main cause of poverty. And quality education for ALL and the development of wisdom (law of karma) have been diagnosed as the best medicine of breaking the cycle of poverty and corruption.

The fact that people have schools doesn’t mean they have an education. The fact that people have pagodas doesn’t mean they have faith. The fact that people have courts doesn’t mean they have justice and egalitarian law. The fact people have functioning government doesn’t mean they have real democracy with freedom of expressions. The resultant impunity along with the widespread poverty and a lack of strong institutions sparked an uncontrollable mass of corruption mainly created by the top politicians, and their powerful cronies. Its contagious spread has affected all including the poor. ‘Survival’ is the main cause of corruption for the poor.

Cambodian people are trained in a culture of corruption. The epidemic low teachers salaries contribute to a vicious cycle that encourages students to bribe their way through school, and eventually use bribery to carry them through life. In the national educational system, Cambodians are educated in corruption early – students aged 6-years-old and up are forced and taught that paying unofficial fees to supplement teachers’ salary is a part of growing up. Teachers demand students pay school fee everyday. “Small man gets small bribe; big man gets big bribe” has become a popular Khmer saying. The government must admit the failure of its responsibility to educate all Cambodia’s children to their fullest potential with the academic and professional skills. The national educational system in Cambodia offers a sharp division of classes, as the rich few are in good positions at independence in private schools and have used their power to maintain themselves. Sure, the current system offers schooling to the masses of illiterates from the countryside, but just to make them able workers in the factories and not enough to be owners due to the low academic standards and the quality of teachers for the remote areas. Furthermore, schools often serve as instruments of social reproduction in which the lower class learn to be docile workers who follow orders and the upper class are trained for leadership and the exercise of power. Since quality education is liberation, the goal of teaching and learning should stress to free the minds of students from the unconscious grip of oppressive ideas about such things as their class, race, gender, or ethnic status and other forms of social repression. One becomes free of these oppressive ideas not simply by recognizing them as oppressive, but by doing something about them.

Cambodia has become an aid-dependent society and much of the foreign aid that flooded Cambodia ended up in the pockets of unscrupulous officials. A 2004 study by the US agency for International Development (USAID) showed corruption costs the Cambodian government a huge sum of $500 million in revenue. “Five hundred million is the equivalent to the cost of constructing 20,000 six room school buildings or the ability to pay every civil servant an additional $260 a month,” said US Ambassador Carol Rodley at the anti-corruption concert in Phnom-Penh in May of 2009. A 2007 Transparency International survey showed 72% of Cambodian paid bribes for public services – the highest rate in the Asia-Pacific region and second only to Cameroon (79%) globally. A 2008 Transparency International Index put Cambodia in a dismal 166th place most corrupted country. Studies compiled by the largely German funded identification of the poor households program 2008 said 30% people surveyed in four provinces (Siem Reap, Prey Veng, Kompong Cham, and Oddar Meanchey) were rated as either “poor” or “very poor”. A latest 2009 index showed a small improvement at 156th place, still a very grim spot to be. The latest score, based on eight independent surveys, indicate the perceived level of public sector corruption in Cambodia. Yet, the government rejected most of the findings analysis of the corruption levels in Cambodia even the Transparency International showed that a whooping number of 47% of Cambodian family had paid some form of bribe in 2008.

To become aid-independent and move the country forward in hope of beating the black economy to an open society of equality, justice, freedom, dignity, and progress, all kinds of corruption must be stopped and should be eliminated by adopting, implementing, and enforcing the anti-corruption law as soon as possible and to the fullest with zero tolerance from the highest to the lowest ranking. Since the government named poverty reduction as a top priority in 2009, the people of Cambodia should challenge and demand the top leaders to live up to its stated priorities and deliver the long awaiting promise to reduce poverty. It is the people’s hope that an anti-corruption law approved by the Council of Ministers on 11th December 2009 will pass in the National Assembly very soon. Yet, the government has to release the latest copies of the long awaited draft legislation. Furthermore, the current administration cannot bear any criticism of them, or even accept that others may have different views such as the historical event of 7th January 1979. In this context, change can only take place through actions. And real change may only come when the people get more educated and learn to speak their own mind without fear of oppressions. When the power of love (metta) overcomes the love of power, then real development will grow and last.