Kampot education must build a “culture of gratitude” with a photo of Prime Minister Hun Sen in every classroom and a daily routine of bowing to it and giving thanks for the roofs under which students learn, the provincial governor has said.
Speaking at a forum on Sunday attended by teachers and drivers of motorbike taxis, tuk-tuks, vans and others, Mao Thonin said he would give schools 15 days to install photos of the prime minister.
“Now I ask you in our schools whether there are samdech’s pictures,” Thonin told the gathering. “Every classroom must have one, and after I mention it … I will go check. I am giving 15 days and I will go to check all education centers and classrooms. Do you understand?”
He wanted teachers to “plant a culture of gratitude” among students, the governor said.
“When we arrive, we point to the samdech techo’s picture, and the sons and daughters pay their respects to samdech techo,” Thonin said. “Without samdech techo the roof of the school would be roots and sugarcane leaves. You must remember that you can study because of this, and the path that you walk is because of this. Teachers’ salaries are very much due to samdech also. These are the gold and diamond words, the soul and life of the nation, and together we should use them.”
“Samdech techo” roughly translates to “lord” and “powerful,” and is a common honorific for Hun Sen.
Thonin continued that students should take three to five minutes before classes to reflect on the prime minister. “Samdech is the one who built it, and we do not hear bomb expolsions because of samdech and peace.”
He also urged people to come to him and the administration for help over issues, rather than cause any trouble.
“I ask brothers and sisters to maintain dignity and keep gratitude in their hearts for the peace that we have. Sometimes when we get angry, we do wrong,” he said.
“We are all CPP,” he added, and said he always asks for rice as donations from powerful petitioners so he can distribute it among the people.
Kampot provincial education director Pak Hap said some schools already had Hun Sen’s pictures in their classrooms, but not all “because there has been no instruction yet.”
“We have not yet received instructions from the Ministry of Education, and if they place them, we do not mind,” Hap said. “We are under the Ministry of Education.”
About teachers instilling gratitude in the students, Hap said both that there was no problem and that in the past it would have been called “ideology.”
“There is nothing wrong that he has instructed them because students must love the leaders,” he said.
“Who would dare to say it’s wrong, since it’s planting [the seed] to love the nation and leaders, and they can little by little nurture it in them. … in the State of Cambodia, it was called ideology,” Hap said, referring to Cambodia between 1989 and 1993.
Education Ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha could not be reached for comment.
Rights group Adhoc’s coordinator for Kampot, Yun Phally, said the provincial governor appeared to be quite popular — he had been active since being transferred from Pursat in October, listening to people’s disputes and meeting them in public forums.
“In general people are happy when they see authorities and leaders who visit the brothers and sisters, and they are delighted that leaders visited them. Some gambling has been reduced. Between the old and new governors, people support the new governor more, and there have been crowds supporting him when he has met with people,” Phally said, though he added that larger land disputes remained unsolved.
Phally declined to comment about the governor’s remarks on putting Hun Sen’s portraits in every classroom.