Most of the Cambodian students might have heard from their teachers or parents about how discipline was strictly practiced by students during the 1950s, when the country was still a French Protectorate. However, not all of the information about these times have been written in educational books for students of the present day to learn and reflect upon.
Khmeng Sala Barang or Student of French School, written by thought-provoking writer Chut Khai, is a book that contains six chapters that talk about how children were raised during the era and how different the students’ lives were compared to the present times. The book is set at Kampong Champ province.
Let’s focus on one chapter – probably one of the most interesting parts of the story, the Sala Bros or the Male School. This specific chapter takes readers to the education system of Cambodia during the 1950s. Males and females went to different buildings to study. Schools impose very strict rules that even the ways students sleep, walk, eat or leave the school premises all follow rules.
As Cambodia was under the French colony, books – regardless of the school status – were all in the French language.
The chapter seems all factual. However, a part of the story mentions about the Khmer-Vietnamese teacher teaching Khmer students. Now, I think that’s a little weird considering the era the story is set. The author even shows how the teacher mispronounces and misspells Khmer words.
But more than anything, the book also depicts how the implementation of strict rules at schools have somehow resulted to violence against students. Teachers that time pinched and beat their students when they commit mistakes. The teachers punish them when they couldn’t answer academic questions inside the classroom. Some students were beaten more than a hundred times every year.
The author also gives out proofs of the consequences of using violent measures to discipline others. Some of the students who were spared from pinching and beating performed better in class. However, students who were afraid that they might get punished didn’t do well.
The book also depicts the story of students who lived in pagodas, those who could not afford to send themselves to proper education. It is a fact, even today, that people who stay in pagoda aim to get higher education and be useful and productive citizens of the country.
The book also talks about the importance of the environment and how people, students especially, can help preserve and conserve our natural resources.
There are five more chapters in Khmeng Sala Barang. Read the entire book and you’ll surely learn a lot.
Khmeng Sala Barang is available at Scholar Library.