World Bulletin/News Desk
This year, Cambodia’s newly-elected Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron vowed that Grade 12 exams in 2014 would not be like those of the past -- long typified by allegations that cheating and bribery were rife.
With education officials placed under pressure to clean up the system, in March the country’s Anti-Corruption Unit went as far as to threaten imprisonment for students caught cheating.
Since 1994, according to the Phnom Penh Post, pass grades could be bought for between $200 and $250. In 2005, The Cambodia Daily said, middlemen were able to make a living by facilitating the procurement of exam papers for students -- for fees of up to $100.
In August, a report in The Cambodia Daily showed that papers were being bought for up to $300 and then shared among students, who would pay about $10 to see them ahead of the exam.
In spite of this, however, when the results were posted last month, the impact of the crackdown was palpable -- a 75 percent failure rate and merely 11 A’s attained among the nearly 90,000 students who sat the exams -- prompting education officials to announce that a second sitting would be held.
Now, some students are finally grasping what it’s like to have to study to pass, with extra classes being given at schools ahead of the next backup exam in October.
Soeng Dara, a 19-year-old student at Phnom Penh’s Bak Touk High School, was cramming there Sunday after failing the first round of exams despite trying to cheat his way through them.
"I am trying to learn more in a part-time class and also reading books at nighttime in order to prepare for the second exam," he told The Anadolu Agency.
"The first time, I bought an exam handout, but I failed to copy it because the proctors were very strict so I couldn't check it."
Eighteen-year-old Sin Try also tried to cheat and feels hard-done by that controls were stepped up so much that he, too, failed.
"I am worried that I will fail again, because the first time was very strict," he said.
"I think 50 percent will not pass again. They [students] are not confident much in the second exam. Most of my friends feel the same way and they complain about the strictness of the exam."
He stressed his disappointment by adding, "I am still not happy, because the [education] ministry didn’t tell us at the beginning of the year [that it would be more strict]."
Minister Chuon Naron told the AA that while disappointing, the results paint a clearer picture of where serious reforms need to be carried out.
"On one hand it’s disappointing, but on the other hand, we know that by having that credible information, that before we didn't know, we can focus our reform program on the ‘low hanging fruit’,” he said.
"I think the result allows us to provide a comprehensive analysis of the issues facing the education system. More importantly, we will take action and respond to that result."
He said that would include trying to improve the learning outcome from mathematics and science classes -- in which students performed poorly this year. Teachers are also expected to receive further training in their fields, particularly those who teach the exam grades 9 and 12.
Furthermore, the Education Ministry is planning to reassess the hours students spend in school, Chuon Naron said.
"Cambodian schools are just half a day -- for instance, chemistry is therefore only taught for one hour per week," he explained.
Extending school time, however, will also have to be matched by salary increases.
The Cambodia Daily reported that the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen decreed that teachers’ wages would be increased from $105 to $138 by April. Chuon Naron hopes raises can be performance-based, too.
For now, it remains to be seen whether students’ good, honest cramming will help nudge the dismal results seen across the country a little higher.
Last Mod: 07 Eylül 2014, 12:46