We have just been passing from the old to the New Year (of Horse), though we are not Chinese. I would like to take this opportune moment to wish all of you the best wishes and the four Buddhist blessings.

Congratulations to 4,101 Graduates

I am so happy to be able to participate in this ceremony to present diplomas for 4,101 graduates of the National University of Management (NUM) that HE Hang Chuon Naron, Minister of Education, had reported earlier. It is the first time in the coming New Year and I must admit that there will be many graduations to come. Let alone February and March, I have so many speeches to make and those relating to the graduation started with this ceremonial speech today for NUM.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my greeting and appreciation to the successes that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports as well as the National University of Management has achieved so far. Minister Hang Chuon Naron reported just now that this success illustrates ensured connectivity from former Minister of Education, HE Im Setthi, who is now a member of the National Assembly, with the new Minister and ascertain the job that we are doing as part of our action of reform, the reform of tertiary education is also included.

I also would like to take this chance to express my sincere appreciation to the University rector and leadership as well as professors of the National University of Management for their excellent jobs in serving the need for education of our students until 4,101 of them have succeeded and will get their diplomas today. On this occasion, I would like to take this opportune moment to express my sincere appreciation and joy for those graduates of all levels for their successes today. Some of you have in fact graduated since 2012 but we had had no time to make it official for you then.

I wish to reiterate what I have been saying all along that without personal efforts of our students, no matter how good or big the schools were, your studies would not yield a success. Knowledge cannot be infused from one person to another like we do with blood. Efforts made by the management and professors, as I said earlier, bear fruits only when students are making efforts of their own. I noted that the library here is in its process of modernization and I am sure that it will play a very important role in the field of research and study for our students. Let us hope that those of our students will perform excellently in reciprocating their parents’ or spouses’ efforts for them to get a chance for education.

Private Sector Urged to Invest in Human Resource Development

It is quite like what HE Hang Chuon Naron has mentioned, together with efforts made so far, things that we have achieved are not by chance. There is a need for a chance to create a better position for national development, in which education or human resource development plays key role in development, both in the past, present and for the future too. From one stage of development to another, the Royal Government of Cambodia has provided opportunity for the private sector to participate in developing the field of education. They have introduced fee-paying study option and, as a result, we have here more fee-paying students than those who have studied on scholarships.

With the number of state university facilities we have, we are not able to answer to the need for education of our youth who have grown in big number and are in need for university education. According to the report by Minister Hang Chuon Naron, we now have up to 104 educational institutions, of which only 39 are state facilities. The 65 private educational institutions are providing training for over 220,000 students. The question is if we depend on the 39 state institutions to provide education for these students, where could students who finish their secondary education go or how could they pay for their education in just 39 state educational facilities?

The Royal Government puts out a policy framework that attracts private sector to invest in human resource development in the country. Not only that the private sector’s investment but also the acceptance of students to pay for their study in tertiary education, in both state and private, have all contributed to the development of human resource of the country. Let me express here my greeting and appreciation to the efforts made by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports as a whole, and to the National University of Management in particular, for these marvelous human achievements.

Youth and Education under War and Peace

The question here is whether we have a chance or not to make these efforts and to come this far, to use our chance or not. In the Cambodian history, it is important to note that our youth had lost so many chances and for a long time. We had a true chance in between the post independent period 1953 and 1970 under the leadership of Samdech Ov, Preah Borom Ratanak Kaod. It was a great chance after we successfully regained independence from France. Therefore, in the late 1950s and the full decade of 1960s, the Cambodian history noted a great chance for our youth and children. The coup on March 18, 1970 took away the chance.

I am sure historians would not overlook this historical fact. Some tend to ignore the past. I just remind them that if one does not know where one stands, one would not know from where s/he comes from. Who had dealt the country such a loss of chance? It was the coup clan of Lon Nol, Sirik Matak, Cheng Heng, In Tam, etc. Their coup had brought about the war in the whole country. Cambodia was divided in two. One side was under the control of the national liberation force that supported Samdech Sihanouk, then Head of State, and another was under the control of Lon Nol. Youth under both rules lost their chances.

Youth who should hold pens and books had instead arms in their hands. Was that not a loss of chance for education? Though there had some schools under the area run by Lon Nol, they were under constant threats of war and many professors transferred their service to the army. Both students and teachers had lost their chance to study and to teach. All of a sudden, the whole country plunged into war. The chance had gone and peaceful life was no more. They may remember that when Pol Pot came to power, there were not any schools in Cambodia. If they do not remember or know themselves, they could just ask from their parents or grandparents.

As is said by Minister HE Hang Chuon Naron, we will be hosting the South East Asian Game in 2023, while Laos and Myanmar have all hosted the games. We hold it until then because we want to save the money for national development. Under Pol Pot, sports were considered the leftover of feudalism or capitalism. In their conscience, to practice sports, one just had to hoe up the soil. Starting with this concept, they remained ignorant to education of all kinds and killed both professors and students. People of my generation lost our chance for education. Some of us, after the liberation of the country, had to go back to schools, no matter how old they were. Now, at the age of six, our children start their first year in school already.

In the context that the country was under both war and peace, i.e. certain areas of the country were under peace in certain time, while war remained in separated areas and in some of the times in between 1979 and 1998, situational impact had affected chance for education and development too. In areas extending from Koh Sla in Kompot to Phnom Voir in Oral of Kompong Speu, or the border areas from Mealai to Pailin and Anlong Veng to the northern part of the country, the Khmer Rouge’s last stronghold, every child would end up holding arms when they were growing up before they knew how to read and write.

The real chance we had was when we dismantle the political and military organization of Pol Pot, while integrating and globalizing those areas under the win-win policy to create a full chance for youth and people. As of today, our youth are exposed to numerous choices, starting with educational options in over 100 universities. Some of our students who choose to discontinue their studies to tertiary level also have chances to employ themselves in agriculture, industry and/or service areas. All these have become available because of the fact that we have peace. No country would realize development under the conditions of instability and internal war.

The Cambodian Army in the International Arena

It is because of bitter experiences in our history that we have done what we can to help friends in difficulties. Under the umbrella of the United Nations we are sending troops to Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, to South Sudan, Lebanon and will head on to Mali. In cooperation with the former Director of Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI) Eva Mysliwiec, a school was built in Mali, where HE Hang Chuon Naron had attended the inauguration on January 5. Mali is in war and we have sent over 300 troops there. The other day, there was a fight in Sudan and our hospital in Sudan had to provide treatment to the people in Sudan wounded from the fight. There have been demands for midwife service too.

Our bitter experiences move us to think of others. They also remind us to make more efforts to maintain our country’s peace and political stability. The country must not be held hostage by any reactionary force. Presenting diploma to students is a normal process of the state institutions – National Assembly, Senate and other RGC’s institutions, in which education, health and other sectors function normally. We could get a chance only when there is peace or when the country is no longer in war.

Information Technology and Nuclear Power

Traffic accidents have increased shockingly and many youths have lost their chance in making full use of it. While many use their chances for education and work, some use it for disrespectful actions i.e. drugs and/or alcohol. Surprisingly some of the traffic accidents beyond 12 o’clock midnight involved young citizens. Where else could they be that late? Could have been at the nightclub or tavern? I think at their ages, they should have better thing to do.

The country has got a chance now for its people. What remains to be a problem now is whether our youth would know how to make use of it for the sake of their families’ improvements and personal development? Nowadays, compared to time in the past like some twenty or thirty years ago, access to information was ways too slow. In order to receive a piece of information with regard to national security, we had to wait despite communication through radio and confirmation through deciphering. In case that those two were unable to clarify, we needed to send someone to deliver the message in person.

For instance, Facebook, people posted news everywhere and we get the information very quickly, though it needs to have other sources to confirm. It is easy and quick to work and send mails through smart phone. Recipients receive information fast. In area of education, students do not have to read book in local library, they could also read book in libraries in the world. Some have proven to be skillful in this area. Some Chinese have hidden themselves in Cambodia to be part of money extortion ring on internet. These people are found to be in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. to extort money via internet from those living in Hong Kong, China, etc.

The other day I met with the General Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and he posed me a question what are the Cambodian aspiration in developing the nuclear power for, so that they will get themselves ready to offer help, human resource development would also include. I told him that Cambodia would not even use nuclear to produce energy but it is important for us to understand about management (like what to do) in case disaster happens in anyone’s country not far from ours. I told him I wish to see how we can use nuclear power in the field of health and agriculture, for instance propagating and/or hybridizing. We would not even try to use it for energy because we have seen what happened in 2011 with regard to the accident of the Japanese nuclear powered electric plant and the Chernobyl incident in the former Soviet Union in 1985.

Education Reform

In general, no sector would afford to stay idle. It requires new level of development. Everyone in every rank must learn or we would continue to place ourselves in conservative mode. Let me talk a little bit about the reform in the field of education. We have some 200,000 students but private investors could not find the skilled ones they need. This tells us to pay more attention to the quality of education. In less than two years, ASEAN will become one community where flow of goods, service, capital and even human labor will take place. In our reform effort, I am asking for understanding that the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports will no longer co-sign the diploma as it used to be. Each institution must be responsible on its own reputation and quality. This is to apply with the intention to end dependency of tertiary institutions on the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports to ascertain own reputation.

In some countries, they have set a standard of how much they would graduate their bachelor or master holders or Ph D, for instance Kuwait. They would take only dozens of them, while the rest have to go on to specialized skill training after achieving their secondary education diploma. That would be hard for Cambodia to do because we have many students coming out of secondary education. Where else would they go? Though they have money, they could not continue their study too. The relationship between quantity and quality is undeniably important as without one, no one could expect to achieve the other. It is important to make quality based on quantity and, in this case, our quantity is big.

In the case of Cambodia, we will have to continue this open for education policy while exercising our quality improvement in education to achieve real educated persons. All this will be a context of research and study, while furthering reform to strengthen quality of the tertiary education. By the way, I am grateful to the National University of Management for providing me so far some 541 scholarships so that I can give them out to the students in need.

Normal Functioning of Cambodian Political Situation

I am talking a bit too much. However, today is the day we start afresh the New Year. I will talk less in later ceremonies. I would refrain from talking politics too. As we know that the political situation is the way it has been, let us not talk about it anymore. In short, everything functions normal. People’s living condition has been nothing but regular. The public service and state institutions – National Assembly, Senate, Royal Government and Constitutional Council – all function normally. In May, there will be this non-universal suffrage of the communal councils organized by the National Elections Committee. HM the King receives credential letters from diplomats, visits people, while Prime Minster does his job, hospital and schools work normally. All goes normal.

Well I only have a story to whisper to you. In the time when there was this movement to demand pay rise (for workers) to 160 USD, a lady who had a coffee shop was of strong support to the demonstrators. She packed food and drinking water to give to the demonstrators to show her wholehearted support of their actions. Returning to the shop, her staff demanded pay rise to 160 USD too. Perplexed with the development, she exclaimed “it backfires. I will support them no more.” People working in home too, there seems to be demand for 160 USD too. What is the employers say they would cook food themselves, what would happen then? Make your demand rationale and no political involvement, there will be a point that both sides can meet./.