September 2, 2016

Zaman Schools to Stay Open

The Zaman group of schools in Phnom Penh will open the new academic year on Monday while awaiting the government’s response to the Turkish embassy’s request to shut the schools.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Gurkan Cil, the principal of Zaman International School Secondary and High School campus, confirmed his schools would start the new academic year on Monday.

“Monday, just three days later, our schools will begin new academic years and we are ready,” he said.

Last month during a meeting with Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, Turkey’s ambassador to Cambodia Ilhan Kemal Tug officially asked that the Zaman schools in Phnom Penh be closed, saying they were connected to the suspected plotters of July’s failed coup in Turkey.

“Without solid evidence, we do not accept any accusation,” Mr. Cil said. “We have very much confidence, and it is confidence of innocence. If they [the Turkish government] have proof, they can provide to the Cambodian government.”

He added that his schools were very strong academically and that despite the negative press in recent months about his schools’ alleged links to terrorism, parents have been undeterred in registering their children for the new academic year.

“So far, from the government side, we did not have any notification or anything. So it is a sign that the Cambodian government has no problem with the schools.

“As I mentioned, we are in Cambodia for 20 years. For 20 years, we did not have anything from the government side about this kind of accusation,” Mr. Cil said.

“We are in front of you, we are in front of our students’ parents. As I said, we are very confident of this point and we believe that the Cambodian government will decide not to close the schools.”

Sok Pheng, who came to register his children, said most parents acknowledged the schools’ qualifications and the quality of education that could be attained there.

“Education is very important for our children’s future, and our country as well,” he said.

He added that he did not care about the schools’ alleged links and hoped the schools would remain open even if they had to change names or make further improvements.

“If the schools close, it would affect the future of the students who have been studying here, and make them depressed,” he said, adding that the government should consider the students’ feelings before making a decision.

Another mother, Heng Phirun, said: “I worry about this issue. If the schools close, I don’t know which school is for my students next because my children have been studying there for a long time.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said the government was still looking into the Turkish embassy’s request.

Published on Khmer Times, 2 September 2016, Friday