We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Anatomy of a Crisis

Education, Development, and the State in Cambodia, 19531998

David M. Ayres

Publication Year: 2000

In 1993, the United Nations sponsored national elections in Cambodia, signaling the international community's commitment to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of what was, by any measure, a shattered and torn society. Cambodia's economy was stagnant. The education system was in complete disarray: Students had neither pens nor books, teachers were poorly trained, and classrooms were literally crumbling. Few of the individuals and organizations responsible for financing, planning, and implementing Cambodia's post-election development thought it necessary to ask why the country's economy and society were in such a parlous state. The mass graves scattered throughout the countryside provided an obvious explanation. The appalling state of the education system, many argued, could be directly attributed to the fact that among the 1.7 million victims of Pol Pot's holocaust were thousands of students, teachers, technocrats, and intellectuals. In this exacting and insightful examination of the crisis in Cambodian education, David M. Ayres challenges the widespread belief that the key to Cambodia's future development and prosperity lies in overcoming the dreadful legacy of Khmer Rouge. He seeks to explain why Cambodia has struggled with an educational crisis for more that four decades (including the years before the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975) and thus casts the net of his analysis well beyond Pol Pot and his accomplices. Drawing on an extensive range of sources, Ayres clearly shows that Cambodia's educational dilemma--the disparity between the education system and the economic, political, and cultural environments, which it should serve--can be explained by setting education within its historical and cultural contexts. Themes of tradition, modernity, change, and changelessness are linked with culturally entrenched notions of power, hierarchy, and leadership to clarify why education funding is promised but rarely delivered, why schools are built where they are not needed, why plans are enthusiastically embraced but never implemented, and why contracts and agreements are ignored almost immediately after they are signed. Anatomy of a Crisis will be compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in education and development issues, as well as Cambodian society, culture, politics, and history.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (19.1 KB)
pp. v

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (20.2 KB)
pp. vii-viii

Writing this book would have been a much more difficult task if it were not for the love and encouragement of my family. My wife and my parents, Michael and Vicki, have endured my frequent absences, holding the fort together while I have been overseas or bunkered in my office. It is to each of them, and to my son, Dominic, that I dedicate this book.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

pdf iconDownload PDF (23.0 KB)
pp. ix-xi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (59.2 KB)
pp. 1-8

At the heart of precolonial Cambodia, and at the heart of the country’s modern conscience, are the awe-inspiring towers of Angkor Wat. Built in the twelfth century by the Khmer king, Suryavarman II (r. 1113 – 1150), the temple embodies the two underlying tenets of Cambodian traditionalism.1 First, it represents a palpable testament to the glorious ...

read more

1 The Traditional Setting: State, Society, and Education before Independence

pdf iconDownload PDF (103.4 KB)
pp. 9-30

Just how people came to inhabit the land that now forms Cambodia remains something of a mystery. As in many other Southeast Asian countries, mythical legends about the creation of Cambodia provide tales rich in detail and adventure yet scant in terms of historical fact. One story revolves around a Brahman prince who marries a dragon-princess.

read more

2 Sihanouk and the Sangkum: From Independence to Chaos

pdf iconDownload PDF (139.8 KB)
pp. 31-66

When King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated the Cambodian throne to contest the 1955 elections, he brought to an end two years of bitter political conflict as independent Cambodia had struggled to contend with its newly granted freedom. Drawing on the divine status accorded to his former title, Sihanouk seized control of the emergent Cambodian state, ...

read more

3 Lon Nol and the Republic: The Declining State

pdf iconDownload PDF (117.0 KB)
pp. 67-93

Neil Davis’ recollections of the bombing of the Ecole Wat Phnom, a private primary school in the center of Phnom Penh, in the final weeks of the life of the Khmer Republic, serve as a poignant metaphor for the five years that followed the Sihanouk era and preceded the Democratic Kampuchea holocaust in Cambodia:1

read more

4 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge: Building and Defending Cambodia

pdf iconDownload PDF (113.1 KB)
pp. 94-119

By April 1975, most of Phnom Penh’s students had not attended classes for more than a month. When they saw the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge finally enter the city, many of these students, and their parents, were relieved. The fighting had stopped and they could finally return to school. A former student of the Lycée Yukanthor remembered his father, who was a teacher, ...

read more

5 The PRK and the SOC: The State in Transition

pdf iconDownload PDF (124.0 KB)
pp. 120-149

In 1973, the commander of the Khmer Rouge’s 126th Regiment, based in the Eastern Zone, advanced across the Mekong river in pursuit of Lon Nol’s Republican army. His troops attempted to climb Phnom (Mount) Chisor, in Takeo province, in search of a traditional malarial cure, whereupon twelve of them were arrested, taken away, and killed. They were not arrested by Republican soldiers nor by the Republic’s South ...

read more

6 Ranariddh and Hun Sen: From Uneasy Alliance to Coup

pdf iconDownload PDF (134.9 KB)
pp. 150-183

On July 5, 1997, Cambodia’s second prime minister, Hun Sen, appeared on national television dressed in military fatigues. With none of his usual flamboyance, he calmly read a statement in which he accused his counterpart, First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh, and other officials from Prince Ranariddh’s National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (58.9 KB)
pp. 184-191

Like Angkor Wat, where the traditional and modern worlds are enmeshed by the rise and the fall of the sun, the modern Cambodian nation- state embodies both tradition and modernity. Shrouded by the dark cloak of twilight, the temple’s disappearance from the horizon is followed at dawn by the slow ascent of the sun from behind its central ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (167.3 KB)
pp. 193-227


pdf iconDownload PDF (107.8 KB)
pp. 229-249


pdf iconDownload PDF (47.2 KB)
pp. 251-256

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (22.2 KB)
pp. 257

David M. Ayres is the Ewing Post-doctoral Fellow in Education at the University of Sydney in Australia. He became interested in Cambodia while an undergraduate, and subsequently wrote an honors thesis and doctoral dissertation on the politics of educational policy in Cambodia. Dr. Ayres’ previous publications and undergraduate teaching at the University of Sydney have combined his interest in Cambodian history and politics with his background in international and development education.

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861445
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822385

Publication Year: 2000