A Bird’s Eye View on Cambodia: Education Quality and Conflict risks

By Heng Dyna

Cambodia should not view the recent exam fiasco as a separate issue from the political uncertainty and risks in the country. They are the two dots Cambodia needs to connect. Education plays very important role in reducing the risks of a country falling into conflict and unrest. The risk Cambodia is seriously facing now is the friction between military and youth.

In average, as presented in the book “the Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier at Oxford University, it takes between 15 to 30 years for a country to graduate from a fragile status. If this statistics is right, then counting from 1998, Cambodia may still have another ten years to be out of the hazardous range. In other words, it needs to have two more stable terms to lay out the very conditions to rule out the disastrous down side risks.

However, how fast and far a country can graduate from fragile status depends on the speed of improving education and building institutions. Indeed, a relatively high proportion of young, uneducated men in a country increase the risks of conflicts and unrest. They can be easily manipulated or dragged into uncontrollable violence. Had we make much more progress in education quality over the last 15 years, the risk would have been lower. Therefore, the first and foremost task for Cambodia is to get their population, especially youth, a quality basic education as soon and as much as possible.

The question of transformation in Cambodia is a question of education, institution, and leadership. We must be very intentional about how we train our citizen and future leaders with ethics and responsibility. We have to train leaders of exceptional integrity,who have the ability to confront complex problems, ask the right questions, and come up with workable solutions. Leaders should also have a strong sense and capability in risk management, i.e. concerning about the potential worse outcome for the country and thus identifying the direction they should move.

I am talking not about just political leaders we’ve heard a lot about, but also about the professionals who are trained and assigned to be the guardians of our society -lawyers, judges, policemen, teachers, engineers, doctors, and civil servants.

By improving its education quality, Cambodia can move on to build effective institutions and effective public services, needed to be in place to ensure a country’s long-term stability. I believe that if we involve Cambodian students in good education, if we have them discuss the real issues that they confront and if we give them skills that enable them to engage the real world, their potentials can be unleashed. And when Cambodia has many capable youth, the probability of having a very good leader becomes higher while that of instability also decreases. As argued in the book “Why nations fail” by two MIT economists, political stability without inclusive‟ institutions such as good education system may enable an economy to grow at limited extent, but will not permit the full ascent to modern prosperity.

To predict a country’s future, ones should observe its students and youth. Now, the winds of generational change appear to be blowing already. But the wind direction and Cambodia’s long-term development will depend on how its young population succeeds in possessing quality education and social engagement in the productive and innovative ways.

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