13 February 2014

Cambodia 2014: Is there Astronomy in Cambodia?

Phnom Penh, Cambodia city center by night
Credit: Astronomy club Toutatis/S. Lamoureux
(Click on picture to enlarge)
As we set into our journey through Cambodia, we arrived in Phnom Penh at a friend’s apartment. His apartment was on the 4th floor and had a huge terrace where I could set my camera and take pictures of the night sky.
As the camera rolled, I started to ask questions about astronomy to our friend and his family. This was to get a feeling of how much people in Cambodia knew about the subject. They had a general knowledge of astronomy. I would say high school level.

One week later we headed for Krong Koh Kong, a town on the west coast to visit his family. As the night fell, I set my camera for an observation session and drew a crowd of curious kids and adults from the neighbourhood.
I chatted up the crowd and asked them about astronomy. Once again the level of knowledge was limited. When I explained about stars in our galaxy and black holes in the center of it, they were lost. So, another set back for astronomy in Cambodia.
Dr. Cheap Chheang Vith in his class room in Battambang,
Cambodia. Credit: Astronomy club Toutatis/S. Lamoureux
(Click on picture to enlarge)
A week later, I met with Dr. Cheap Chheang Vith at his house in Battambang. Mr, Vith is a teacher of Earth Sciences who works at the Regional Teacher Training Center in Battambang where he teaches young students to become teachers. In this case Earth science teachers.
His knowledge of astronomy was higher than the previous people I spoke to, but still lacked fluidity. He seemed rusted. He invited me for an observation session of the moon with his students. It was very nice to see so much people interested in astronomy
For a couple of hours we observed the Moon and discussed astronomy. He showed me his office and classroom and pointed out that his resources for astronomy were limited.
He had to purchase himself a telescope from Japan and rely on donations and old equipments to teach properly astronomy to his students. Let say that with more support from the global community, these student could grasp even better the science of astronomy. But wait there is hope!

Dr. Vith with his students observing the Moon.Credit: Astronomy club Toutatis/S. Lamoureux
(Click on picture to enlarge)
A Belgian company devoted to education for development has established an education development program (Science, Environmental and Agricultural Life Skills - SEAL Program) in Cambodia since 2008 focusing on strengthening teacher training in Cambodia. This initiative is helping a lot the local training center in Battambang, Cambodia and is invaluable to those students.

Please visit VVOB’s website: for more information.

In conclusion, my question; “Is there Astronomy in Cambodia?” was really relevant.
I found that the level of knowledge was novice and what you find in high school text books. I understand that Cambodia is a poor country and there are more pressing matter on the table, like agriculture for example. So it is understandable that astronomy is not a priority. On a good note, I found that Cambodian people are curious people and are interested in the stars and the Universe. A good sign for the future.