The Kingdom’s high-stakes grade-12 examinations kicked off yesterday, with Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron saying the administration of the test was getting “better and better” after a major anti-corruption overhaul four years ago, though students yesterday reported that their confidence in their abilities still remains low.
The two-day nationwide exams saw a total of 101,410 students register, though 1,497 were absent yesterday. By comparison, 93,752 students registered for the exam last year, with 1,282 missing the first day.
Fewer students were caught cheating and bringing prohibited materials to the exam than last year, though there were hiccups: close to two dozen students experienced health problems like dizziness and vomiting while taking the test, which will ultimately determine whether they qualify for university programmes. All but two were able to continue the exams.
Nonetheless, the Ministry of Education said the first day of examinations had passed without any irregularities.
Chuon Naron, after opening a sealed box of tests at Preah Sisowath High School in the morning, said the test was seeing improvements compared to previous years.
“We believe that this year’s examination will run even better and better,” he said.
This is the fourth year the Anti-Corruption Unit has been involved to help curb what was once rampant cheating and corruption in the exam. In 2014, the first year of the crackdown, the passing rate plummeted from 87 percent to just over 25 percent. Last year, 62 percent of students passed.
But even with continued warnings of harsh punishment for cheaters, there were reports of five students sneaking in cellphones, which were seized; one student changing seats with another, ostensibly to cheat; and another copying answers, according to a summary posted by the ministry on its Facebook page. One educational staffer was also caught replacing an official examiner for unspecified reasons, with the ministry saying it was preparing a report.
Ministry spokesman Ros Salin did not respond to requests for comment.
Hong Gich, 18, a student taking the exam at Sonthormok High School, said she was happy with the stricter rules, but only hoped to pass with 50 percent – barely above the minimum passing grade of about 47 percent.
“If someone doesn’t have enough knowledge, they will fail,” she said.
Kong Srey Nick, 18, and her brother, Kong Vandet, 22, were taking the exam for a second time at Sonthormok High School yesterday after both siblings failed last year. The siblings said they aspired to attend university, but also only expected to squeak by with 50 percent.
“I will try again if I fail again,” Vandet said. “I will not give up, because I have a dream to become a teacher in a public school.”
Chin Chanveasna, executive director for the NGO Education Partnership, said it was “normal” for students to have low confidence at the beginning of the test, but maintained students were better prepared now.
For one thing, he noted, “They don’t expect to copy from others.”
Chanveasna said the ministry had also trained all math teachers on a new teaching methodology after the 2014 examination, which revealed that most students performed poorly on that subject. Since then, he said, there has been a slight improvement in math scores.
In October, a working group of NGOs, ministry officials and other partners will hold a meeting to analyse how students performed this year on various subjects and consider similar measures.