As Cambodian grade 12 students prepare for the national exam after last year’s crackdown on rampant cheating, Post Plus sat down with Education Ministry Spokesman Ros Salin to talk about how the reforms will continue to be carried out, his expectations for this year and what ongoing measures are being undertaken to change Cambodia’s education system ahead of the ASEAN Integration.
It has been close to a year since the crackdown on exam cheating was initiated, a reform that had huge effects on the rate of students that passed. How many students and teachers will participate in the exam this year?
This year there are 8,488 registered students for the exam and 150 centres divided into 3,576 rooms for the two day examination. We are still preparing the exact number of teachers who will be involved in the exams, and we’ll release the numbers next week.
How do you think the exams will fare this year?
I’m optimistic - I think the pass rate will be higher than last year. First of all, the students are all aware of the examination reforms and know they must be capable of doing the exam. If not, they will fail. Last year, some of them knew about it but weren’t aware that it was a real reform. The Ministry has also tried to build an awareness campaign through our website and our Facebook page.
Secondly, we have analysed the results of last year’s exam. We realised most of them did poorly in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. After that, the ministry invited the teachers to train in these four majors. We also prepared a guidebook for the students on these subjects, and we put the soft copy on our Facebook, so students can download it and study by themselves.
Thirdly, three months prior to the exam, we had an intensive class over the weekend. All provinces had this class, which was ran by volunteers, ex-students and teachers. In the exam, 237/500 is a pass, so if a student studies for the whole year, they can pass easily.
What will happen to those caught cheating?
When students go to exam centres in the morning, the teacher checks for smartphones and cheat sheets. Then before they go into the classroom, two teachers will call each student and check them again. Then all of them go into the classroom, and before the test, the teacher gives a final warning. If a student is caught cheating in the exam, he fails automatically. If students ask someone else to do the exam for them, they will be failed and won’t be able to retake the exam for another 2 years. There will be two teachers in the class, plus an observer.
If a lot of students fail, will they be allowed to conduct a second exam like last year?
No, this year we will do only one exam. Last year, most students got just below the 237 mark pass rate, so after the second exam last year we ended up with a 40.7 per cent pass rate.
What is the budget for this year’s exam?
The budget for this year’s exam is $3 million.
For those students who do not pass, what options do they have in terms of higher education?
Of the failed students last year, 11,000 re-took grade 12. Over 15,000 students went on to do an associate degree and more than 17,000 went on to technical training.
During 1994, a similar type of reform happened in the Cambodian education system, but it failed. For the future, how will your reform agenda continue to be implemented?
We have the action plan and program in place, and we will follow up on these. In 1994, the exams were strict but we couldn’t continue that because of the lack of a system in place. Now we have a system that will last for years.
What is the future for universities in Cambodia?
This year, we selected 11 universities for a pilot project. We went to the universities first to get information to test the criteria. We look at quality, student standards, achievement, management, curriculum, teaching, research activities and libraries. From January 2016, we start our assessments on the 73 criteria, and next year, we will start an assessment. We have a certain standard in each of our criteria that all the universities must meet. They have six months to develop on the criteria to be ready for the assessment next year.
How is the accreditation process for universities being handled?
We don’t do that yet. If universities hit the quota next year, they will be accredited.
What is being done to strengthen primary education?
We’re starting community schools and an early childhood committee program incorporating English from grade 4. We’re already preparing the scholarship subsidy for poorer students from grade 3.
What needs to be done in terms of preparing Cambodia’s youth for the upcoming AEC?
We try to encourage universities to invest in English language education, technical skills and IT.
How do you encourage them?
When they propose a budget for the approval, we will increase their budget if they comply.
Among ASEAN members, Cambodian students have a lower quality of education and vocational training. Besides enacting needed reforms, how can the perception of Cambodia’s students change?
Perceptions have changed already. Students are trying to study harder at English and the other skills that the ASEAN market needs.
Do Cambodian students and workers have a harder time competing with their ASEAN neighbours overseas because of the poor perception of the education system?
No. Cambodians are now seen as more international compared to previous generations. They are very keen to learn and work amongst different cultures, and they study English language programs more.
What challenges does the Ministry still face in implementing reforms beyond the crackdown of exam cheating?
We’re still working on changing the students’ mindsets, but we need more commitment from them to change their habits to study at home and not depend only on teachers. The perception of parents has been to just send their children to school and that the principal and the teachers will do everything. This has to change. Teachers can guide them, but the parents need to take responsibility as well to teach them.
So you think the main problems with education at the moment lay outside of the schools?
So there aren’t many problems within the schools? They are doing well in terms of budget and materials?
Teaching materials are now better, the budget is OK. Before, we needed more because we were trying to increase the technological and electronic materials in the schools. That was a challenge.
What is next on the agenda?
We’re working on teacher policy action plans to develop teacher capacity. We’ll do more inspections on schools, give curriculum advice from grade 1 to grade 12 to conform to the ASEAN curriculum and try to increase English hours in the classroom.