Retracting History with Technology

A mobile app called “Khmer Rouge History” was developed by several Cambodians to recount and teach the history, rather than silencing and denying this past. The app was launched in July 2017 and in the past several months, the writer and developer of the app have been travelling across to reach out to students.

Presentation for high school students

An event was organized for high school students in Phomn Penh and I was so lucky to meet the small, yet dedicated, team and learn about how it was developed and more importantly understand why.

I was already aware that Cambodia has a large youth population between the age of 14 and 30 (about 68%). This app comes at a critical time to ensure that the next generation of young people to understand their history rather than let it be silenced or forgotten.

Keo Duong, writer of the application story

When I asked the director of the high school, he said that at the moment the curriculum did not include the history of the Khmer Rouge regime. Instead, they did school visits to aid the knowledge. I realize that the students in the capital have access to places like museums but in other parts of the country, how can this information be more accessible?

That is why the app made perfect sense. Not only did I realize this app is filling an educational gap, it’s also about Cambodians retelling their history. The videos feature Cambodian voices and the text is written by Cambodians, then translated into English (not the other way around).

Application available for free (search 'Khmer Rouge History')

Sopheap Chea said, “Right now there are 13,000 downloads. Over 95% of them are Cambodian, then U.S., France, and Japan.”

The app weaves through the history and it’s interesting to read about the roots and rise of power, not only the tragic events that happened. I think it will allow students to become more critical.

Keo Duong, one of the main writers of the text within the app asked the students in the classroom, “Why do we learn the history of the Khmer Rouge?”

There was some silence as the hot and humid air filled the room. There were hushed whispering and then after several beats of waiting a student stood up and volunteered. They said, “We study the history because it tells us about how Cambodian people suffered. This is a story about Cambodia and we learn about the suffering so we do not let it happen again to our people.”

With the support of the European Union, Bophana Center (the developers of the app) was able to create an interactive and meaningful tool to help Cambodians learn about their history. I urge the international community to also check it out, especially if you were thinking about Cambodia as a travel destination.

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