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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No bribes at ministry; cheats resort to tossing rocks

No bribes at ministry; cheats resort to tossing rocks

PARENTS and friends of pupils sitting crucial school examinations this month had

to resort to streetside cheating because so many steps had been taken to reduce corruption

and bribery within the ministry itself, said Education Minister Tol Lah.

"They could not find people who accept bribes [to allow pupils to pass the exams],

so there is lot of activity outside [the schools]," said the Minister.

"I am not surprised, but I am sorry to see this activity which is irresponsible,

uncooperative and against the Royal Government 'principles," he said.

"We try to educate candidates and examiners throughout the year about what to

do and what not to do during the exams.

"The majority of them did well. But for the cheating outside, I am not saying

that I am not responsible but what can I do?"

He said that it was difficult to stop people trying to make money from selling exam

answers.

"They say they copy the answers from note books but they can even try to cheat

the people. Maybe they do not have the right answers to the subject of the examination,"

he said.

Tol Lah said that it was increasingly difficult for students and teachers to collude

inside the classrooms because each step of the exams were monitored by different

groups of ministry staff coming from different areas each time.

"You have three groups. For example, one group of examiners for the writing

part come from one region, another group correcting papers come from second region,

and a third group check the marks.

"If you want to corrupt them you then have to go to Kompong Thom, Battambang

and Kandal," he said.

Tol Lah has carried on the initiatives driven by his predecessor Ung Huot, who predicted

corruption within the highest levels of the ministry could be stamped out. Independent

observers agreed that Huot and Tol Lah deserve credit for widely achieving this aim

- though the "street level" cheating, as Lah says, is even harder to stop.

A teacher at O Bek Khom pedagogy school said this year students gave bribes to teachers.

"This year's examination is so weak compared with the previous year. In 1994,

the examinations were fairer, but after that everything gets worse," he said.

A candidate in the Ek Ka Reach examination center said: "Every exam hour, three

students in my room collected up to 2,000 riel from all students to bribe the teachers.

"The teachers let all the students open the answer sheets and stopped the controllers

from seeing."

In Takeo province, out of three schools visited, one was empty for holidays while

another was packed with families and friends talking to those inside or tossing them

answers. At a third, access to the pupils being examined was restricted but possible.

Many "support activities" had moved off campus.

For example, a nearby photocopy shop was busy copying answers. Older brothers waited

quietly as older men answered solutions to the math test, and as soon as a question

had been solved, they joined the mob around the photocopier. Photocopying completed,

moto-cycles were fired up to make the 200-meter dash up the narrow path to the school.

The classrooms themselves were quiet, but a great deal of conversation and collaboration

was going on. Students appeared free to walk around the classroom, peer over other's

shoulders, or receive photocopied solutions tossed in the window wrapped around rocks.

Tol Lah agreed that despite the measures and directives he was not "100 percent

sure whether [the teachers and examiners] were perfect." If corruption or bribe-taking

were proved, teachers could be held back for promotion and students barred from exams

for two years, he said.

(Reported by John C. Brown, Soly Vannpok, Christine Chaumeau and Chhun Phaveng).

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