Education key to Asian impasse
Cambodia mulling systematic reform fit for the digital age
To achieve Cambodia's ambition of becoming an upper middle-income economy by 2030 and prepare for the digital era, it must focus on developing human capital and reforming the education system.
So says Hun Many, son of strongman Hun Sen, president of the Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia and president of Commission 7 of Cambodia's National Assembly, which deals with education.
Upper middle-income economies are those with a gross national income (GNI) per capita of between US$3,896 and $12,055. Cambodia hit its current status of being a lower-middle income country last year with a GNI per capita of $1,230 in 2017, according to the World Bank's data.
"Under Commission 7 of the National Assembly, our focus is to reform our education system to make sure human resources are more geared toward the digital age," he told around 500 attendees at the "Bangkok Post International Forum 2018".
He said Cambodia has prioritised science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education while also addressing the challenge of adapting its teachers, who have been trained in traditional rote-learning, to focus on encouraging critical thinking.
They need new thinkers to support the individual development programme (IDP) and ensure the country's industrial development will be guided in a way that diversifies Cambodia's economic base and renders it more competitive and productive.
Mr Many said "young people are able to understand young people", but if you are in a position of leadership you need a good understanding of all generations.
"At the end of the day, you don't serve only young people. If you are in a position of leadership, you need to serve the whole country and society at large," he said.
Being able to balance the needs of people of all ages, and respect their various needs, will give everyone a new way of thinking and a new way of utilising technology that is "fundamental to moving society forward smoothly", he added.
"We can't think about one head at a time, or one angle at a time," he said, adding future leaders should learn lessons from the past to ensure "they are not repeated". He was referring to the genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.
"The concept of nationalism has remained the same but we doubt that the experience of knowing how nationalism can turn to be good, or in a very bad way, as Cambodia has experienced," he said.
"In order to acquire our independence, nationalism was used. In order to take over the country, the Khmer Rouge also used nationalism, so the concept did not change, but the experience ensured we don't take it in the manner that it gets out of hand."
He said young Cambodians must not forget the atrocities that took place.
"When we are young, we tend not to live in the past. But we should not forget who we are and what makes us this way today," he said. Cambodian youth are becoming more tech savvy so he expects to see more debate on democracy in the country, as well as future engines of economic growth.
"I focus on the development of young people, not just to help them empower and express themselves but also to be able to balance all views," he said.
"At the end of the day, you have to know what you are doing it for. Are you doing it just for the sake of democracy? Or do you want to take part in the process of maintaining and developing the country further?"
Mr Many said that while it would be good to see Cambodians become "champions of democracy" it was also important to focus on other national pillars like national security and economic development.
"All pillars are important ... it is the responsibility of young people as a whole to move the country forward," he added.