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Strengthening ties through the empowerment of people

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The project under the royal patronage was recently renewed in Bangkok. Thai PBS

Strengthening ties through the empowerment of people

Human development is about investing in people for greater social equity and economic growth.

When Cambodia transitioned from the shadows of war almost three decades ago, nation building and economic development were seen as among the top priorities for the Kingdom.

As a neighbouring country, Thailand believes that the development of Cambodia would not only benefit the latter, but contribute to regional stability, security and the wellbeing of people between the two nations.

In addition to growing trade and investment between Thailand and Cambodia over the past decade, development cooperation such as human resources and human security has never been more important as the two nations celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations established in December 1950.

Building human capital

It is no secret that quality education empowers people and contributes towards the establishment of a strong foundation for the development of any country.

Since 2011, Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA) has been coordinating with the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) in awarding more than 2,400 short- and long-term scholarships to Cambodians for academic study, academic fellowships and vocational training in Thailand.

The awarding of scholarships forms a large part of Thailand’s contribution to human development in neighbouring countries, with the majority of scholarships given under the royal patronage of HRH Princess Maha

Chakri Sirindhorn, who is fondly revered as the “Educator Princess” for her dedication to educational development nationally and throughout the region.

This programme seeks to equip present and future generations of Cambodians with the knowledge, expertise and skills for them to reach full potential in their respective careers, thereby contributing to Cambodia’s overall growth and development.

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Cambodian and Thai students celebrate graduation at Ubon Ratchathani Rajabhat University in 2018. Photo supplied

In addition to the royal scholarships, the programme also involves financial assistance and support for the establishment of institutions of higher learning in Cambodia – namely the Institute of Technologies in Kampong Chheuteal and Kampong Speu, and the Cambodian-Thai Skills Development Institute in Phnom Penh built in collaboration with the Thai Ministry of Labour.

The royal scholarship awards and educational grants have provided opportunities for Cambodians to expand their wealth of knowledge and build a road to success.

It is a meaningful contribution from Thailand that will last for generations and has had a solid impact at both individual and national levels.

The programme was recently renewed for another five years with the signing of a new agreement in Bangkok on September 1 of this year.

This continued commitment is expected to further bolster a legacy of development cooperation in education that has seen more than 2,000 royal scholarships awarded to Cambodians for study in Thailand between 2005 and 2019.

Strong education system

In a recent interview with Cambodian Minister of Education, Youth and Sport HE Dr Hang Chuon Naron, who is one of the prime drivers of the two nations’ cooperation development for building human resources in Cambodia, the importance of a good education system for growth and development was further emphasised.

“I believe education is really important. Without a strong education system we cannot have strong nation building.

“The great achievements of the Khmer Empire between the ninth and 15th centuries were built on the foundations of a strong education system where public administration, agriculture, architecture, hydrology, logistics, urban planning and the arts were testament to a civilisation built with high levels of human resources.

“Subsequently in years of domestic conflicts and civil wars where the education system was largely forgotten or regarded with hostility, social and economic crises prevailed. The lessons we have learned from these historical observations tells us that the education system of any country is important in determining the country’s success or failure,” Chuon Naron said.

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Cambodian Minister of Education, Youth and Sport HE Dr Hang Chuon Naron. Hong Menea

Tasked with further developing the human resources necessary to keep up with the challenging demands of the Kingdom’s social and economic development, he said he is confident that for the nation to move forward, dedicated efforts must be made to reform and change the education system.

And the key to change, Chuon Naron feels, lies in training younger generations of Cambodians with not only knowledge and technical skills but also preparing them with expertise in critical thinking and problem solving. This will enable the strengthening of both the Kingdom’s public service and private business sectors in the future.

Furthermore, with the Cambodian government’s push towards preparing the nation for the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, there is a need to develop human resources particularly in the fields of financial and information technology.

On the opportunities made available to Cambodian students who qualify for royal scholarships under the patronage of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Chuon Naron said he can already see the positive impact they have had on the changing national educational system landscape.

He said: “In the past, only 30 per cent of students graduated from primary to secondary school with a Grade 12 diploma, while one per cent continued on to higher education, eventually graduating with a tertiary institution diploma or university degree.

“Today, statistics show that there have been more students graduating with a Grade 12 diploma, while the number of graduates earning a tertiary institution diploma and university degree has progressively increased by 10 per cent.

“Every year, close to 200 royal scholarships are offered to Cambodian students for study in Thailand. Scholarship applicants view the opportunity to study abroad in Thailand as value added, offering a wide selection of world-renowned academic qualifications and exposure to invaluable experiences on a regional and international level.

“As most recipients of scholarships are comprised of the best students from the Kingdom, many of them graduate and complete their courses achieving top honours, with some even being recognised with gold medal distinctions from top tertiary institutions in Thailand. Upon graduation they return to Cambodia with not just an academic degree but also with vital experiences that will contribute towards helping companies and the nation to prosper.”

Being a distinguished recipient of several graduate and post-graduate degrees from prestigious tertiary institutions including one of Thailand’s premier universities himself, Chuon Naron knows the added value of studying abroad.

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Cambodian students have the opportunity to be awarded royal scholarships in Thailand. Photo supplied

Sharing his experiences not too long ago while pursuing a post-graduate PhD at Chulalongkorn University he said: “Prior to my appointment as Minister of Education, Youth and Sport in 2013, I was an economist holding various senior and key positions with the Ministry of Economy and Finance for 15 years.

“Coming from a finance and economics background both academically and professionally, I had to change my mindset and focus on learning about the education system in Cambodia in order to develop and establish reform policies needed to move our nation forward.

“So in 2016, after having completed three years of extensive reviews of the national education system, I decided to pursue a PhD in Education at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University to enable me to be better equipped, knowledge and experience wise, to deal with the challenges of managing the national education portfolio.

“However, due to work commitments, I requested the university to study for the course without attending lectures, and this was accepted, thereby making me one of the first people to be enrolled in a post-graduate programme at the university via this unique distance learning mode of study.

“What impressed me most while studying for my PhD was the warm and dedicated support given by highly qualified professors and academic staff from Chulalongkorn University – where principal and associate professors from the university would specially send reference books and materials, and even at times pay me a visit to provide coursework feedback while fulfilling lecture assignments with partnering tertiary institutions in Cambodia.

“This enabled me to prepare for examinations, project theses and dissertations, and successfully graduate with honours.

“During the course of study, I was also inspired to launch a pilot project in Cambodia to establish a new school for the future, a school equipped with a revolutionary management system to train students with the essential knowledge, skills and commitment to become good national and global citizens.”

Advancing human security

While education is a significant component in building a nation towards strong and sustainable growth, it is equally important to address the needs of many Cambodians who might still be affected by health and safety issues in their communities.

Thus, the Thai government has identified human security as another area of involvement and focus that will empower people and contribute to the strengthening of bilateral ties with Cambodia.

For the Thai government, protecting people from health and safety vulnerabilities in neighbouring countries will further the continual growth and development of both nations.

To achieve this objective, several projects have been identified in Cambodia to be supported with technical assistance, equipment contributions and financial aid.

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An ambulance from Thailand is handed over to Oddar Meanchey Referral Hospital. Photo supplied

In matters of health, two bordering Cambodian provinces – Banteay Meanchey and Koh Kong – were selected to participate in the “Sister Hospital” project with neighbouring Thai provinces.

This project was established to improve basic healthcare facilities while increasing the capacity of medical referrals between emergency medical services in Cambodian provincial hospitals and bordering Thai hospitals.

As a result of the cooperation between health authorities across the two nations’ borders, improvements were made to the cross-border medical referral system between Thai and Cambodian hospitals.

Under this project, the Thai government provided technical assistance and contributed medical supplies and equipment to the Banteay Meanchey Referral Hospital and Koh Kong Referral Hospital.

Due to the initial success of this initiative, there are also plans to extend the “Sister Hospital” project to other border provinces such as Battambang and Oddar Meanchey.

Being a harmful legacy of three decades of war that has taken a severe toll on Cambodians, explosive remnants of war (ERW) have a devastating effect on the lives of the people living in contaminated areas. ERW pose a tangible threat to the safety of people and obstructs the economic development of the country.

Recognising the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Center’s (ARMAC) prominent role in raising awareness on the dangers of ERW and its mitigating efforts – which include research, providing assistance to victims and the clearance of unexploded ordinance – the Thai government has supported ARMAC with annual donations of $10,000 since 2019.

Shaping future relations

Although the far-reaching implications of human capital and human security initiatives between Thailand and Cambodia has yet to unravel, the positive impact on both nation’s socio-economic development will be felt in years to come.

Cambodians who are exposed to education in Thailand, along with their circle of friends and acquaintances in both countries, will allow for deeper understanding about the existing diversities and similarities between the two nations.

This will unquestionably forge trust and bridge differences that might unnecessarily hamper cooperation of the two neighbours to thrive together.

The application of human security measures contributed by Thailand to Cambodia in matters of health and safety, especially along bordering provinces, is expected to change lives while at the same time elevating mutual trust and cooperation, resulting in greater mutual benefits – and bringing the two peoples ever closer to live happily alongside each other.

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