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Failing scores see PM step in

For grade 12 students hoping divine intervention would resuscitate their chances of passing this year’s national exam, their salvation arrived yesterday as their concerned prime minister announced he would hold a nationwide retest rather than let under-performing pupils fail.

Just two days into exam grading, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday predicted dire results and called on the Kingdom’s less-studious grade 12 pupils to get back to their books and prepare for a second shot.

“The number of those who will pass won’t be high,” Hun Sen predicted during a graduation speech at Norton University. “However, we have to settle the matter, and we will not allow the failed students to lose their chances.”

The premier said the government was willing to undertake an expensive, second national testing round – the first cost $4 million – because the students had not been prepared for such a “strict reform year”, in which cheating, bribery and other previously rampant irregularities were not allowed.

“Please work hard, this is not a chance to copy the answers or copy from one another. We are willing to spend more money, but the students have to be real learners,” he said.

The Ministry of Education yesterday was unable to provide figures for how many students had so far failed, but exam markers told the Post that in some classes, just a handful of students achieved a passing score.

“Each class I corrected the answers for, only three or four students passed,” said a Khmer literature exam marker who graded results for a school in the capital.

Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron said a retest would be held at the end of September, after results from the initial testing round were finalised on August 29 and 30. “The prime minister asked the ministry to check the possibility of the exam,” he said. “We had this second test during the ’60s and ’70s.”

If about 80 per cent of the pupils score high enough, there is no need to retest, he said, adding that the second round, like the first, would also include independent monitors from the Anti-Corruption Unit to look out for and prevent cheating.

Students who fail the second round will have to repeat their grade.

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International, called the re-examination announcement “quite funny”.

“It gives the message that the recent reform efforts by the Ministry of Education and the ACU to prevent bribery and corruption were not well thought out,” he said, adding that it was akin to the government building a new road without first considering drainage needs.

San Chey, coordinator at the education NGO ANSA-EAP, suggested the lowest scorers should not be allowed another shot.

But students who knew they performed abysmally welcomed the chance.

“This year, we were not allowed to cheat or bribe proctors, so everyone could not finish filling out their paper,” said Chet Tharin*, 18.

Teachers yesterday suggested the premier’s intervention might have been motivated less by sympathy for poor testers than the students assumed.

“I think the private colleges would complain to him a lot if most students failed,” said Suon Thea*, a teacher.

“Then, they would not have enough students to attend their colleges.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LAIGNEE BARRON

*Names changed to protect identity

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