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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Three quarters of students receive failing mark

Students crowd around a score board at Sisowath High School
Students crowd around a score board at Sisowath High School Heng Chivoan

Three quarters of students receive failing mark

Almost 90,000 took the Grade 12 exam, which cracked down on cheaters. Just 11 received an A

As much-anticipated Grade 12 exam results were released yesterday, 18-year-old So Chan Samnang came one crucial step closer to her dream of studying law at university.

Though her E grade is far from perfect, it’s enough to apply to tertiary institutions and greatly exceeds what most of her peers managed.

Just 25.72 per cent of students passed the exam, the Ministry of Education officially announced yesterday, a result lower even than the dismal 30 per cent figure predicted by Prime Minister Hun Sen in the aftermath of the two-day test earlier this month.

The exam – usually rife with corruption and cheating – had been hailed as the cleanest in many years, thanks to a determined crackdown by the ministry, which deployed thousands of monitors from the anti-corruption unit to enforce strict regulations.

By way of comparison, 87 per cent of students passed in 2013.

“I tried hard, because I knew that this year would be so strict,” a smiling Samnang said yesterday after checking her results at Phnom Penh’s Sisowath High School, which had been swamped by hundreds of hopeful youth, some leaving in celebration, others in tears.

“I’m happy with myself, but when I heard many of my friends failed, how can I be happy?” she added.

Tri Veng Seang, 18, one of her three friends standing nearby, and looking dismal in the drizzling rain, said he did not blame the government’s reforms for his failure.

“I’m not angry with them, but I feel so stupid with myself.”

Almost 90,000 candidates sat the exams on August 4 and 5, but only 11 received the top A grade. Two hundred and nineteen students received B’s, 907 received C’s, 1,823 received D’s and 20,157, received the lowest passing grade, an E.

“The results of this year’s examination show that the students that passed, they passed on merit,” Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron, credited with implementing the tough reforms, told the Post yesterday.

While it was a “disappointing” result, he added, it provided a lot of clear information about challenges in the education sector.

“It also gives encouragement for the students to work harder over the next few years. And it also gives a lot of information for us [about certain] provinces, and also, for subject areas where we have low scores, we can focus on those subjects for curriculum reform, textbook reform and retraining teachers.”

He also dismissed criticism from some failing students that the reforms had been implemented too quickly or without enough warning.

“On September 28 [last year], the ministry unveiled eight priorities for reform, which included examination reform and we raised awareness of that reform… We made a press campaign one year in advance, but the students thought we were not serious,” he said.

But failing students will have another chance on October 13 and 14. On August 11, Hun Sen announced there would be a re-test under the same conditions.

Naron said yesterday that the ministry would soon release free texts of lessons for self-study and organise classes for students that can’t afford extra tutoring.

San Chey, coordinator at education NGO ANSA-EAP, said that the government should next year only offer a re-exam to students that came close to passing, and eventually phase out any re-exams by 2017.

“If the re-exam is happening again and again, the results of the reform will change nothing.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that more than 93,000 students sat the exam. Almost 90,000 students sat the exam.
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