As the grade 12 national exams wrapped up yesterday afternoon, officials lauded last year’s sweeping reforms for keeping cheating to a minimum, while acknowledging that absences and faintings had increased.
Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron, responsible for introducing the strict anti-cheating measures, said there had been a “good improvement” in the behaviour of test-takers this year.
“Last year, so many cheat sheets were found and a lot of students were caught cheating, but this year, there were only a small amount of cheat sheets [discovered], no mobile phones in test rooms and only one or two calculators.”
Om Yentieng, chief of the Anti-Corruption Unit, which has helped to implement the reforms, agreed that the exam had gone “smoothly”, bar a few students’ attempts to smuggle in banned testing aids.
But while cheating was down this year, a large number of students decided to skip the test altogether.
According to Chuon Naron, 1,431 of the 88,488 registered candidates were absent on the first day of the exam, while even more – 1,589 – were absent yesterday.
“It’s normal that candidates have no confidence in themselves after the first day of the exam. They think they cannot do it anymore so they give up,” he said.
The number of students physically buckling under the pressure also rose yesterday, with 44 reported incidents of fainting and dizziness compared to 19 on Monday, according to the Ministry of Education.
Ministry spokesman Ros Salin said most of those who fainted yesterday were able to “continue with their exam after being treated by doctors”.
A pregnant student in a Koh Kong province high school was rushed to hospital having gone into labour and was not able to complete the test, he added.
Despite the blips, the ministry once again said early indicators suggested a significant improvement on last year’s dismal 74 per cent failure rate.
As the exam finished yesterday afternoon, students filing out of Phnom Penh’s Wat Koh High School gave mixed reviews on how they’d fared in the test, but all agreed that cheating had proved impossible.
Twenty-one-year-old student Phanny Sopharaksa, who failed last year, said conditions inside the exam hall had become even stricter.
“There were a lot more observers this year, so it was a lot stricter . . . But I studied more than last year so I was more prepared.”
In a joint statement yesterday, local NGOs the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, the Khmer Institute for National Development, and the Coalition for Integrity & Social Accountability praised the reforms, which they said had been implemented well.
But they urged the ministry to “improve the process of checking papers to ensure fair results for candidates”.
The NGOs also called on the government to expand its reforms by “providing better chances for students to study”, with libraries, clean bathrooms and adequate study tools in all schools that they said would further “boost the education system”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY