Where I go for AGGREGATED news on Cambodia, plus...   . . .           On Dec 26-29, 1979 [by now, Cambodia under one full year of Vietnamese occupation], the musician Paul McCartney and Kurt Waldheim, the Secre [ ... ]


Has Science Discovered God?     Click to watch this FASCINATING, MIND-BLOGGING video with breathtaking images and you learn science in the process!   Read transcript             God in the Cosmos
Veritas Forum at Yale University  [ ... ]

Theary Seng's BLOG
Thursday, 27 May 2010 08:10

Education Through Imagination: A Closed Mind is a Beautiful Thing to Lose was first published in June 2007 in The Phnom Penh Post as part of the Voice of Justice column, carrying an urgent message and call to action now more than ever to be heeded. We must end "predatory corruption", which is costing the State hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and use this money to pay a living wage to teachers, which would substantially reduce "survival corruption" in the educational system of the teachers and students alike.


a closed mind is a beautiful thing to lose

It is good and fitting that we pause to reflect on the beauty and special needs of the young in Cambodia this June 1 for International Children's Day. Children possess hope and potential, energy and vigor, dreams and unlimited possibilities. We – parents, teachers, policymakers, society generally – bear a sacred responsibility to foster and expand these dreams and possibilities for our children through quality education.
Quality education means more than the four walls of a classroom and the memorization of certain facts in order to obtain a certificate or an acronym to attach to one's name. Education must be holistic, seeking to educate the "whole person" whereby the "classroom" is the community of the school, situated within the larger community of the village, of the town, of the city, and by extension, within the larger community of humanity.

Quality education emphasizes creativity and imagination.

Current State of Education

The Cambodian educational system, as with many other systems, had to be resurrected from the ashes since Pol Pot had his say. Great improvements have been made, particularly within the last several years. However, when we Khmers stop using the Year Zero as a standard and begin to live in the 21st century world of emails, Skype and space travel, we are then awakened to the crisis of our educational system and practices.

Brief statistics

The educational system can improve statistically. In 2005, only 749 of the 1621 communes have lower secondary schools. Forty-five of 185 districts have no upper secondary schools. Only 58.9% of students reach grade 5, and 20% of children have access to preschools. The literacy rate of those 15 years and older stands at 67.3%. There is overcrowding whereby students learn in double or triple shifts. The ratio of students to a teacher in the primary level stands at 53 and secondary level at 25.

Although public education is supposed to be free, students bear the financial burden of unofficial fees which must be paid to supplement the US$30 monthly salary of teachers and administrators. In Phnom Penh, approximately 10-20,000 children living on the streets and in dumpsites do not attend school.

Rote learning and blind obedience

Our history and culture place disproportionate, unhealthy importance on tradition and the past, with little or no focus on imagination and creativity for balance. This is reflected in the education in our schools and at home. I am the first to agree, yes, 'do not move an ancient boundary stone' (Proverbs 23:10), for we need this compass of the past to guide us into the future. In this regard, l am like C.S. Lewis in preferring old classics, which have been tested by the passage of time, over new books.

However, rote memorization and "stand and deliver" instruction whereby children only repeat and chant data produce limited educational values and do nothing to expand the hope and potential, dreams and possibilities of our children. This method narrows the mind in that it reinforces blind obedience of authority. And we have witnessed and experienced what blind obedience to authority has done to destroy our culture throughout our ancient, recent and present history.

Pol Pot made blind obedience a hallmark of his reign of terror, but he was of a society that was already conditioned to accept authority without much questioning.

To this day, blind obedience is consciously and unconsciously encouraged. I grew up in a loving family but was constantly told 'no' by the older relatives: 'Why can't I visit friends?' 'Because I said so'. 'Why can't I play basketball?' 'Because you're a girl.' The conversation ends with status and not reason.

More invidiously, the reflexive negative response – where the answer is "no" until you can convince others that it should be a "yes" – creates a society of naysayers, and again impedes creativity, imagination and pioneering.

Holistic Education

There is space for rote learning in the building of the mind, but the goals of education must include the whole person. A holistic way of thinking tries to encompass and integrate multiple layers of meaning and experience rather than defining human possibilities narrowly.

Rather than seeing education as a process of transmission and transaction, transformative learning involves changing one's frame of reference. This change may include points of view, habits of mind, and worldviews. Holistic education understands knowledge as something that is constructed by the context in which a person lives. Therefore, teaching students to reflect critically on how we come to know or understand information is essential. As a result, students are asked to develop critical and reflective thinking skills and encouraged to care about the world around them. Through this contemplative process, they may decide that some degree of personal or social transformation is required.

As Khmers, we must incorporate these concepts for the further development of our mentality.

Goals of Holistic Education

Holistic education is important for its focus on self-actualization, relationships, resilience and aesthetics.

Self-actualization seeks to engage students in the learning and teaching processes and foster personal and collective responsibility. We can instill more of this sense of responsibility in our Khmer society. It also aims to develop self-respect and self-esteem. It fosters individuality and differences in thought processes.

Another goal of holistic education is social and emotional literacy, which aims to encourage a love of learning and attention to experiential learning and the importance of these qualities in developing personal relationships. It places significance on human value systems, as well as spiritual values such a compassion and peace.

Resilience is the ability to overcome difficulties and face challenges for long-term success. The next step in strengthening Khmer resilience is for us to focus on quality and longevity.

Aesthetics is teaching children to see the beauty in what is around them and to have awe and respect for life. This requires imagination and creativity.


Why is imagination important? According to Albert Einstein, it is more important than knowledge: knowledge is limited whereas 'imagination encircles the world'. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget noted the importance of imagination in education in order to create 'men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done.'

Imagination is important because every genius throughout the ages and across cultures possessed it and every philosopher thinker espoused it. Imagination works to break the bondage of poverty of the mind, body and spirit. It creates opportunities leading to societal betterment. According to Tuli Kupferberg, 'when patterns are broken, new worlds emerge,' and 'through imagination, we can visualize the uncreated worlds of potential that lie within us (Stephen Covey).'

Never Stop Questioning

Related to imagination is the idea of 'thinking outside the box', where 'the important thing is never to stop questioning (Einstein).' When we give a student an answer, they will accept it as a truth. If instead we teach a student to question, they will find many truths. We Khmer should take to heart the words of Naguib Mahfouz. 'You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.' Or that of Decouvertes: 'It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.'

Read. Read. Read.

A critical component of the development of the imagination is reading. We Khmers need to read, read, read and read some more. When we read, we prepare ourselves for any and all opportunities which otherwise would pass us by. The Chinese have it right it defining 'success' by combining the character for preparation (internal individually determined) with the character for opportunity (externally determined).

The majority of Khmer live in a harsh reality of abject poverty, crimes and abuse. More than ever we need to keep in mind that reality can be 'beaten with enough imagination'. Imagination, then, is the gateway to wisdom and change, and ultimately to personal and social development.

Theary C. SENG


Theary's BLOG

Caroline Kennedy Delegation to Palace; Love; I support CNRM; New Year Video Message; Challenges are Opportunities; Free James!; Proportionality; Wolves in Sheep's Clothing; Entrapment; Prince Sirivudh

Kennedy-Niinami Delegation to Khemarin Palace 11 February 2018   Click to watch TVK clip of royal audience with the King and Queen Mother     Prime Minister Son Sann, Jacqueline Kennedy, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Princess Norodom Mo [ ... ]

January 7; Kramanation; 47; Kampot Vegetable Sellers; No more selfies; Facebook Profile Name Change

Theary C. Seng, 11 January 2012
Chaktomuk Theatre, Phnom Penh, January 2010

January 7 is indeed a significant day for survivors of the Khmer Rouge. It arrested the macabre convulsions that would have swallowed all of us into a hellish hole if the [ ... ]


English Afrikaans Albanian Arabic Armenian Azerbaijani Basque Belarusian Bulgarian Catalan Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Croatian Czech Danish Dutch Estonian Filipino Finnish French Galician Georgian German Greek Haitian Creole Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Icelandic Indonesian Irish Italian Japanese Korean Latvian Lithuanian Macedonian Malay Maltese Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Serbian Slovak Slovenian Spanish Swahili Swedish Thai Turkish Ukrainian Urdu Vietnamese Welsh Yiddish