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School officials search students for contraband as they enter the second round of grade 12 national exams at Baktuk High School in Phnom Penh last year.
School officials search students for contraband as they enter the second round of grade 12 national exams at Baktuk High School in Phnom Penh last year. Hong Menea

Thousands drop out from national exams

After last year’s crackdown on high school exit-exam cheats, the number of students who have registered to take the exam this August has dipped, but with new monitoring initiatives in place, education officials said they are optimistic the pass rate will increase.

The 88,488 candidates planning to sit the national exam on August 24 represent a 3 per cent drop from last school year’s 91,373 exam registrants, according to a statement from the Ministry of Education.

“There are a little fewer students than last year, because some decided to find jobs right away after school or take associate degrees instead,” Education Ministry spokesman Ros Salin said.

Last year, the Education Ministry’s clampdown on cheating during the exam saw the pass rate plummet from 87 per cent in 2013 to a disastrous 25 per cent. A second-chance test saw 18 per cent pass.

About 11,686 students who received failing marks decided to repeat their senior year, but of those, only 4,695 have registered to take the exam.

Another 15,635 students with failing grades in 2014 opted to pursue associate degrees while 17,586 went on to continue with technical training, according to Salin.

“I know the ministry will be strict with the exam this year again, so I dropped the exam. I’m going to enter university instead through an associate degree,” Vicheka, a student who failed the initial exam as well as the retake in 2014, said yesterday.

The two-year associate degree programs train students in a specific skill and do not require a passing exit-test mark, unlike the more advanced four-year bachelor’s degree, which provides students with wider career opportunities.

The ministry has also vowed to deliver tighter punishments against employees and non-staffers who take bribes or reproduce test answers and will continue its ban on bringing any electronic device into exam halls.

“We’re going to be stricter, but we’re optimistic with the scores, because unlike before, we sent out exam exercises from the beginning of the school year and initiated intensive classes and extra weekend tutorials for the weakest subjects – chemistry, mathematics and physics – to increase students’ capacity to pass,” Salin said.

NGO Education Partnership executive director Chin Chanveasna agreed that the ministry has “certainly taken better preparations for the exam”.

“We think and hope that the success rate will be higher … because after last year’s experience, it became clear to teachers, parents and the ministry that you have to motivate, support and push the kids to pass,” Chanveasna said.

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