More than half of the students who sat the grade 12 national exam last month passed the high-stakes test, marking a significant improvement on last year’s results, when nearly two-thirds failed amid sweeping anti-cheating reforms.
The results, which were released on Saturday, show that 55.8 per cent – or 46,560 students – passed the high school exit exam, which is a requirement for those hoping to enrol in four-year university courses.
Of those who passed the test, the vast majority (nearly 36,000) only scraped by with an E grade. Just 108 candidates received an A.
While the results are far from perfect, officials yesterday lauded them as evidence that reforms to the exam – which was traditionally rife with cheating – are working.
Last year, when the reforms were introduced, just 25.72 per cent passed the first round of tests, and only 11 candidates received an A grade. The previous year had seen a pass rate of 87 per cent.
Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said yesterday that the result this year represented a “positive change”, which was achieved through the cooperation of teachers, proctors and students.
“The students are confident in themselves and the marking was done secretly, so even the markers didn’t know which student’s paper they were marking. The job was done transparently”.
Om Yentieng, head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, which has helped to implement the reforms, also celebrated the results.
“This year's result clearly confirms that the reforms are really effective,” he said. “Even the students believe in the reforms and they stopped relying on power, money or luck [to pass the test, but depended on their effort in studying instead.”
Preap Kol, executive director of anti-corruption NGO Transparency International Cambodia, said the results were a “very positive sign”.
“What we can see is that the knowledge of the students has improved. They understand that the possibility of cheating no longer exists,” he said. “It’s a step forward.”
One of those to score top marks in the high-pressure test was 17-year-old Man Kota, a student at Phnom Penh's Bak Touk High School.
“The result has exceeded my expectations,” Kota said. “My message to the next generation is that you have to improve yourself from the lower classes, and not wait until it’s too late. If we only work hard in grade 12, we will not be able to answer all the questions.”
Amid last year’s dismal results, Prime Minister Hun Sen awarded A-grade students with gifts including cash, computers and motorbikes.
This year, Chuon Naron said he was unsure if the high-achievers would receive the same treatment.
While officials and successful students celebrated over the weekend, others were less happy about the reforms.
Chbar Ampov High School student Pech Sovannroth, 19, said she didn’t know what her future would hold after failing to make the grade.
“Im so sad right now.… I’m not sure if I should study grade 12 again or give up” she said.
Last year, when a second chance was offered to those who failed the exam, just 18 per cent of 60,000 candidates passed.
With no opportunities this year to re-take, students who were absent for any of the exams or scored zero in any paper will have to wait until next year if they hope to have another stab at the test.
Failed candidates include five footballers who were competing in a regional competition during the exam period, and a woman who walked out of her final paper because of severe pregnancy pains.
Praise for this year’s results wasn’t universal, however. Chhay Yavy acting director of the teachers union Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, suggested that the weekend’s results may have been fixed.
Before the results were released “the ministry’s evaluation is that more than 50 per cent would pass and when the result came out it was more than 50 per cent, so it has been decided in advance”.
Yavy also claimed that the test had become easier this year, and hit out at the ministry for a technical error in one of the questions, which meant a point was awarded to every student who sat the exam.
Chuon Narin, though, said that the technical error had not affected the results of the exam.
Those unhappy with their results have 30 days to make an appeal.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY