Students hoping to see the Ministry of Education lighten up after last year’s crackdown on high school exit exam cheaters are in for a rude awakening, according to officials, who say that penalties this year will likely include real jail time.
During a graduation ceremony at Phnom Penh’s Asia Euro University yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned education personnel against illicitly helping grade-12 students from passing the exam, which has long been notorious for rampant cheating and bribery.
“Do not attempt to ‘add score’ when many students fail the examinations this August,” Hun Sen said. “If we remain weak, our higher education will be weak as well. Therefore we need to strengthen it.”
Last year, the Education Ministry’s clampdown on cheating during the national exam saw the passing rate plummet from 87 per cent in 2013 to a disastrous 25 per cent.
Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron yesterday said his ministry plans to answer the prime minister’s call by continuing to follow the same procedures as last year’s exit exams but delivering tighter punishments against employees and civilians who take bribes or reproduce test answers.
“The prime minister has asked us to make the exams as strict as last year and not to relax,” Chuon Naron told the Post. “So, if students collect money to bribe examiners to be able to cheat, they will be prosecuted under the Anti-Corruption Law.”
In 2014, about 20 proctors, teachers and exam centre heads in Kampong Thom, Prey Veng, Kandal and Svay Rieng provinces were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Unit for misdemeanours related to the exams, according to ministry spokesperson Ros Salin.
“Most of those who committed mistakes that involved bribery or giving answers to students were just let off with letters of guidance,” he said. “But this year, if they commit any mistakes, they will be punished severely.”
Offenders will receive at least one month in prison and personnel will lose their jobs, he added.
“Last year, those arrested were sent to court, but their sentences were suspended,” said ACU director Om Yentieng, adding that lawbreakers only spent a few days in detention before being released.
“This August’s exam will be stricter.”
Students caught cheating will also automatically fail but could still re-enter the exam pool the following year. Repeat offenders will lose their privilege to retake the exam.
“We welcome the Ministry of Education’s decision to impose stricter measures and heavier punishment for people who are involved in bribery or misconducts during exams,” said Transparency International's Cambodia director, Kol Preap.
“This could further improve the quality of the exams and will contribute to improving the quality of the general education at high school.”
There will be no retakes of the August 24 exam, “except in cases of force majeure”, Salin added, citing the cost of organising a second round of tests last year.
Meanwhile, the ministry also announced plans to scale up its home-based parental education program, which trains parents to administer learning exercises for their children’s early childhood care education.
With funding from the Global Partnership for Education, the ministry will add 500 more locations in rural disadvantaged areas around the Kingdom, according to Education Ministry Secretary of State Kim Sethany.
Currently, the Education Ministry has home-based programs in 3,025 villages that cover 111,683 children younger than 3 years of age.