H IGH level intervention and bribery which allowed school students to fraudulently pass their end of year examinations has been eradicated, according to the Minister of Education, Youth, and Sport.
In an interview with the Post on July 11 Ung Huot estimated that last year over 60 percent of the 16,000 students who sat their Year 11 examinations passed because of corruption.
He said: "This year of the over 17,000 Year 11 students only 705 passed the exams, 4.05 percent. The standard is not good, but importantly we have eliminated the corruption and now we can start establishing incentives and rebuilding the system."
Huot described how in the past there were two types of corruption: Intervention - where high level officials including politicians, generals and powerful business men would intervene with the Education Ministry to ensure students passed.
Huot estimated that of the 11,500 students who passed their Year 11 exam last year about 5000 did so because of intervention.
Huot said he wrote letters to both prime ministers and got their backing to ensure there would be no intervention from powerful people this year.
Huot said the second type of corruption was bribery where students would simply pay teachers and supervisors money to pass the exams.
Huot estimated that at least another 5000 Year 11 students passed their exams through such payments. He said the cost to pass an exam was around $200 and the corruption had become a million dollar industry.
Huot described how when students would come up to him and complain about the corrupt teachers he told them: "You should also complain about your parents. They're the ones who give you the money to make the bribes.
"The corruption was all over Cambodia, it had become a way of life, an ambition, every time there came an examination you had to pay, and pay.
"I had 80,000 public servants to administer, 150,000 students and their parents many of whom were part of the problem. Ultimately, I was powerless to stop it. To get rid of the corruption the people had to want to follow me.
"So I made appeals to the people all over the nation to stop the corruption. I did a three month tour on TV and radio with [US ambassador] Charles Twining. Now everyone recognizes me.
"I told the people they had to want change in their hearts. Cambodia was getting a bad reputation all over the world because of the corruption in the education sector.
"I told the people to forget the past, I was not going to put blame on anyone. But instead look to a positive future."
Huot said he thought the appeals he made directly to the people were the most effective action he took, but he added: "I also did not trust them. So I instituted a number of measures to make it very difficult to cheat."
Huot said he instructed supervisors to remove all the special markings that were left on the papers by students. In past years these special markings would signal correctors to pass the papers because a bribe had been paid.
Huot said: "I also sent the teachers monitoring the exams to different provinces. In the past teachers were sent to a different school but it was in the same province. So it was still very easy to collude. This year I sent Phnom Penh teachers to Kompong Speu, Battambang teachers to Kandal, etc."
"In Phnom Penh after the students had completed the papers I moved the teachers again so that no teacher would correct a paper at the same center where he monitored the exams.
"In the provinces I switched the exam papers to different centers for correction."
"Some people thought the solution to the problem was emphasizing punishments for people caught cheating, but I put this last on my list.
"I told teachers if I caught them cheating I would send them to jail for 5 to 7 years. They could keep their credentials but instead teach in jail.
"Because only 4 percent passed the Year 11 exam if there was any attempted corruption it obviously did not work. The people who accepted the bribes will have to give the money back," Huot said with a laugh.
The Education Minister said: "Now we can start bringing quality back into education. Next year the teachers and parents will have more say.
"If the students don't work the teachers can say to the students 'If you don't work, I can not help you because money can no longer buy a pass, so you have to work harder."
Hout said of the over 50,000 Year 8 level students who sat the examinations this year only 13 percent passed, whereas previously 70, 80 or 90 percent would pass.
"This is good because these students will now start working hard to pass their Year 11 exam. At primary level the pass rate was not so bad, about 40 percent.
"The Cambodian people, the teachers and parents are very happy and they support me eliminating the corruption. I think now we will attract more foreign investment as well."
Huot said he hoped to attract $156 million in foreign aid over the next 10 years to rebuild the school system.
He added that at present there was a real classroom shortage and he hoped to build an extra 100 classrooms by next year.
"The old system [inherited from the former SOC regime] wasn't bad, but they emphasized quantity not quality.
"We are going to encourage private education more."