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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cheating on exams still rampant

Cheating on exams still rampant

cheating.jpg
cheating.jpg

Police guard the school ground of Sisowath High School on August 8. Some students still managed to throw cheat sheets across the fence to their waiting classmates.

Multiple choice question # 1: Which of the following explains why rampant exam cheating

and bribery are making a mockery of Cambodia's education system?

- (a) teachers are profiting from it

- (b) students see no shame in cheating

- (c) the government says the problem does not exist.

Sadly, the answer is all of the above.

During the national high school exam period from August 6-8, some 60,000 students

competed in the annual rite for grades and ultimately university placement. Over

the three days, cheating became so pronounced that the Ministry of Education ordered

armed police to patrol Phnom Penh's school grounds during testing.

Officers cordoned off campuses with police tape and patrolled school grounds and

fences for accomplices attempting to throw or pass "cheat sheets" to students

inside.

Guns and guarded perimeters appear to have had some effect- just over half the students

questioned said government efforts had hampered their plans to cheat.

However, it was business as usual at many late-night copy shops.

Earlier this week, the streets of Norodom Boulevard were blocked throughout the night

by students waiting to purchase answers for finals. The shops turned a brisk trade

peddling the latest answers.

According to one late night copy shop client, each page varies in price depending

on the class, but the average cost is around 500 riel per sheet.

"The problem is you don't know if you get the right information or not,"

he said. "You just have to wait and find out."

Despite the request for police assistance and other contradictory evidence, Ministry

of Education officials on August 8 refused to admit that cheating exists.

"We cannot make comment before we have a meeting," said the Minister of

Education, Kol Pleng, "but [these allegations] are nothing new. The allegation

of cheating on exams happens every year, but in reality there is none."

But an informal survey conducted by the Post found that 96 of 100 high school students

questioned had cheated on exams in their lifetime.

Some said the sheer prevalence of cheating meant they were left with no option.

"Because some lazy students cheat on exams, they will get a high score. So,

all hard-working students also have to cheat on exams. If we don't cheat, we'll get

lower scores than lazy students," said one respondent.

Others said the schools themselves were lacking in quality and honesty.

"Teachers teach a little, but sell a lot," said one young student.

Another said corruption is now so commonplace in schools that cheating had become

a practice passed from one generation to the next.

"Most of the schools aren't strict enough, therefore students are never afraid

of cheating on any exam," said another.

One secondary school teacher, who also works as an exam controller, explained that

for wealthy families buying a pass is easy. According to the teacher, who did not

wish to be named, A and B grades have a fixed rate of $2,000 and $1,200 respectively.

The cost of a C is negotiable but generally costs $700-800.

"It's easy to arrange for a diploma," he said. "The candidate, or

their parents, just give the name and class number and pay the respective amount

prior to the examination. The candidate needs to sit the exam but they can draw a

picture on it if they like. The result is a guaranteed A."

A and B grades are the most commonly purchased, as they guarantee university placement.

Around 10 percent of students at his school buy grades, the teacher said. But cheaper

methods are common. The answer sheets that so many students line up throughout the

night to obtain are easily smuggled into a classroom. Though to use them the controller

of the exam must be paid "to close their eyes."

Candidates pool around 2,000 to 4,000 riel per subject and give this to the two controllers

employed to monitor cheating, one exam controller said. The students are not forced

to pay but in every class they inevitably do. It happens in almost every school but

the Ministry of Education never find out because the money is shared throughout the

faculty to ensure silence, he said.

"It is difficult to say how I feel about this cheating that goes on," he

told the Post. "Our salaries are so small we are forced to do this to earn a

living, but as a teacher I am not happy to do this."

Theary Seng, director of the Center for Social Development, expressed little faith

in the Ministry's promised crackdown as "the problem runs too deep."

"Cheating is ingrained in both students and teachers," she said. "Socially,

cheating is just another form of corruption. It's a reflection of the larger context

of society. Cheating at a student level makes it difficult for us who are working

against corruption because it becomes ingrained at an early age."

Seng said that exam cheating in schools is harmful not only to the students who cheat,

but those who do not, as it casts doubt on their honesty, knowledge and ability.

"Nationally it puts everything into question," she said. "We question

our own degrees, qualifications, and education system. It creates a suspicious society."

The answer is not only tougher exam monitoring, but paying better qualified teachers

a decent salary so they can concentrate on teaching, rather than finding subsequent

incomes, said Seng. Attitudes also need to change at home, she said. Parents need

to understand that encouraging their child to cheat is harmful to them.

But it appears students are given little choice.

One foreign teacher who has taught in various countries for the past 34 years was

appalled by how casually her students discussed cheating when she first began teaching

in Phnom Penh three years ago.

"I've asked every student I have taught in this country if they cheat and they

always reply, 'yes of course I do. Everyone does. You have to,'" she said. "There's

a power in numbers. If everyone does it, it must be OK."

She added that Cambodia's education system lacks a professional, strictly monitored

exam system making it impossible to cheat. More importantly, she said, teachers need

to prepare their students properly prior to exams, eliminating the need to cheat.

The students spoken to by the Post agreed, but also said the ultimate responsibility

lay with those in power. But perhaps a Chinese proverb puts it best, "The schools

of the country are its future in miniature."

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