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March 3, 2024

Cambodian students are skeptical of studying Chinese

Meng Sophay, an 11th grader at Hun Sen Chamkar Dong High School in Cambodia’s coastal province of Kep, doesn’t think much of a plan announced last week to require students like him to learn Chinese.

“To me, it is not very satisfying because we already have our Khmer language and other languages,” Meng Sophay told Radio Free Asia. “I think it’s a lot.” 

Earlier this month, Chinese and Cambodian officials signed an agreement to include Chinese instruction in grades 7 to 12, a reflection of the close economic and geopolitical ties that have developed between the two countries. 

Sok Ey San, a spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, noted in an interview with an influx of Chinese nationals working in Cambodia. Chinese-language instruction will help Cambodian students compete for jobs after they leave school. He dismissed any criticism of the plan as coming from CPP opponents. 

“It is very necessary that we strive to strengthen and expand trade between Cambodia and China, which is a huge market,” he said.

But Ol Sophin is another student who isn’t quite sure. The 10th grader at Sre Po High School in the central Cambodian province of Stung Treng province said that the inclusion of Chinese characters in public schools could make it easier for poor children who could not afford to study Chinese in private schools. 

She is concerned, however, that the additional requirement could mean young students have less time to learn the Khmer language.

“I’m worried that when foreign languages are introduced, such as Vietnamese and Chinese, it can overwhelm the next generation of young Cambodians, it makes them forget their own language, and some of them will speak foreign languages,” Ol Sophin said. 

“When it comes time to speak a foreign language, you will forget your own language, [you] do not speak your own language,” she said. 

Ros Sovacha, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports spokesman, told local reporters that the inclusion of high school Chinese language education programs will be rolled out in stages. 

To start, the Chinese language curriculum will be limited to 20 high schools in two or three provinces. RFA could not reach Ros Sovacha for further comment.

French and English are already part of Cambodia’s general education curriculum.

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