Food for Thought, Thought for Action!

Doing and Teaching Philosophy in the Cambodian Context

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Chanroeun Pa

Cambodian Centre for Applied Philosophy and Ethics

Cambodian Mekong University, Cambodia

Tel: (+855) (0) 12 76 63 64

E-mail: chanroeunkh@yahoo.com

Paper presented in the World Philosophy Day

Rabat, Morocco, 15-18 November 2006


1. An Overview

2. Teaching Philosophy in the Cambodian context

3. The Challenges of Teaching Philosophy in Cambodia

4. Doing Philosophy in the Cambodia Context

5. Conclusion

I. An Overview

Cambodia is one of the oldest nations in Asia. It is the land of cultural heritage and civilization. During the Angkor Period (802-1431 A.D), it was the Golden Age of Cambodia. The temples in that era represent the great civilization and thoughts. Yet after that period, the country faced civil wars and suffered a lot from wars with her neighbors for long time. From 1431 to 1863, the education in Cambodia survived through Buddhist temple and community supported school, even in the French colonization period (1863-1953). From 1960-1975, philosophy was taught in the university, Royal Khmer University, as a course, but not as a major subject. Philosophy was also taught in the final year of high school. It covered the brief history of both Easter and Western Philosophy and some major concepts.

Yet, schools, university were closed during the Pol Pot regime (1975-1979). After the fall of Pol Pot regime in 1979, the university was reopened. Since the new government followed the communist ideology, the priority of teaching philosophy in that time was Marxist and Leninist Philosophy. Some courses such as Philosophy of dialectic materialism, Political Economy and Scientific Communism were included in the curriculum at that time. In 1993 after the Cambodia changed from Communist government to Constitutional Monarchy, the Philosophy Department opened its window to the West. With the financial and technical support from an NGO called “New Humanity” from Italy, in 1994 the curriculum was updated by including both Western and Eastern Philosophy and lecturers also received further training and education.

Later, the curriculum has been updated every four years. There in only one Philosophy Department, Royal University of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia. Yet, from 2005 the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia (ACC), Ministry of Education, required all first year university students (non-philosophy major) to take at least one course in Philosophy.

II. Teaching Philosophy in Cambodian

Teaching and doing philosophy are two different things. The outcome from philosophical research or philosophizing can enrich the teaching. Yet, many teachers of philosophy pay more attention on teaching rather than doing philosophy outside of the classroom. The point is poverty. Teachers are poorly compensated in Cambodia; therefore, many teachers need do get another job outside of the campus for survival.

III. The Challenges of Teaching Philosophy in Cambodia

There are two obstacles for Philosophy Education in Cambodia

(1) Difficulties in teaching philosophy

– Lack of teaching materials in Khmer

– The obstacle of language

– The obstacle to raise some issues relevant to politics, culture, and history

– The obstacle for those who teach philosophy but don’t do philosophy. This results in many students of philosophy who getting the preparation for philosophizing without having the ground in dealing with philosophical problems in a creative manner.

(2) Obstacles to the practices of philosophy

– The nature of philosophy is controversial and abstract

– Majoring in Philosophy does not guarantee a good job after college

– Some people disvalue and prejudice philosophy because they don’t really understand clearly philosophy what philosophy is especially it is also the result of the long civil war that communist ideology was used as crucial philosophy at that time.

To solve this problems philosophy should be taught in a very simple way and need to include both theories and practices. In short, how philosophy is being taught in Cambodia? The answer is depending on the teachers. One can teach philosophy as a subject matter to be memorized. Or one can also teach it to encourage reflection and critical thinking. It is critical thinking that helps students to have a better self understanding and the crucial tasks to make them capable to be and to do what they values in life.

IV. Doing Philosophy in the Cambodia Context

Etymologically, philosophy means the search for or loves of wisdom.

v Is there Cambodian (Khmer) Philosophy?

v What is Khmer Philosophy?

There are attempts to answer these questions among the philosophy scholars in Cambodia and the discussion is still going on. To me, the answer to the above questions is “yes” and “no” because there has never been in our academic tradition a “Khmer Philosophy” in the same one speaks of “Chinese Philosophy” or “Japanese Philosophy” or “Indian Philosophy”. And there nobody does philosophy by intently specifying it to be a philosophy of his or her own country.

As one of the oldest nations in Asia, Cambodia has originally rich heritage of her own culture. And that culture has been transformed from generation to generation. Base on this reality, there are four sources in searching for Khmer Philosophy:

(1). The first source is the folklore, the myths, epics, proverb, and many forms of versed debate in Khmer culture that have survived to this day.

(2) The second sources is language: Khmer language is a root of the cultural value. The language determines the moral conduct, social order and the way of thinking

(3) The third source is the religious experiences of Cambodians: the teaching of the Buddha and the practice of Buddhism in Cambodia (the combination of Khmer Traditional religion “the belief in Nak Ta”, the Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Brahmanism)

(4) The fourth source is the social ethics, norms and the way of life. This open one’s consciousness to many ethical issues in the country: oppression, democratization, rights and responsibility, civil society, poverty and so on.

V. Conclusion

Philosophy plays very important role in human resources development in Cambodia. It helps to challenge people to shape their world and make people to be and to do what they values in their lives. The challenge of teaching Philosophy is to provide the academic capability to form a generations of leaders and citizens who can adjust their lives in the changing world. Recently poverty is a big challenge to many of our philosophy professors in Cambodia. Yet, it is our task to overcome this obstacle for a better future; therefore we need to:

(1) Promote learning and teaching philosophy in all level in order to train the next generation to become critical and ethical people;

(2) Put our resources together in order to train the next generation of philosophy professors;

(3) Popularize the philosophical insights by translating, teaching and writing in Cambodian language (Khmer);

(4) Search for our authentic ways of life and thoughts (Khmer Philosophy) which can be served as the bacon of light for the national reconstruction process;

(5) Learn and offer different courses: Khmer Philosophy, Eastern Philosophy, and Western Philosophy in order to assist students to comprehend different dimension of thoughts;

(6) Interact more often with international seminars, conferences and scholars in order to learn and share the information for the sake of cooperation, peace and development.

Our task as philosophers is to play the roles as an educator in encouraging the liberal education to direct the mind and the heart of young citizens and future leaders towards greater concerns and compassion for society.


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