The only two grade-A students in Cambodia say that the government
needs to do more to curb cheating and bribery to ensure that exam
results really reflect students' abilities
Heng Kothai from Siem Reap province obtained 100 percent in his exams, as well as A’s in five subjects.
Chhay Sopanhana was lucky to be born into
a family that values learning, while Heng Kothai is a perfectionist.
For both, hitting the books has paid off: they were the only students
in Cambodia to receive perfect exam scores out of a field of 55,178 who
passed their high school finals.
Chhay Sopanhana, 17, from Hun Sen Sereypheap High School in Kandal
province's Takhmao town, said she was delighted when she received news
of her 99.99 percent exam result. "I did my best to receive this grade.
It makes me happy and proud of myself and my whole family is also proud
of me," she said.
As the youngest daughter of a health official in Kandal province, Chhay
Sopanhana is now on holiday and is preparing for university.
"I am interested in studying medicine because my father is a doctor and
my older sister is also approaching this field," she said, adding that
she thought her outstanding grades might owe something to the fact she
was "lucky to be born in a family that is encouraging me to pursue
Despite obtaining the highest possible grades in all subjects at
school, Chhay Sopanhana feels that her foreign-languages skills still
need some work. "I stopped learning languages for one year because I
was focusing on my school exams," she explained. "I need to learn more
English and French to compete with other students when I enter
university," she said, adding that English would be essential in the
future were she to apply for overseas scholarships to pursue her
education still further.
Pech Lang, who was Chhay Sopanhana's math professor, told the Post that
the A student had only used her own knowledge during the exam and did
not cheat. "Sopanhana has been an outstanding student in Kandal
province," she said.
Heng Kothai, the only other student in the country to obtain grade-A
marks, also cited a perceived weakness in foreign languages as a factor
Despite admitting to a slight obsession with perfection, Heng Kothai
says that what really got him his grades was his work ethic.
He said he is confident this will stand him in good stead when he
tackles improving his language skills. "My English is not as good as my
general subjects at school, but if I study hard like I studied for my
exam results, I will achieve success."
The Siem Reap native received an overall exam score of 100 percent, and
said he got an A in five subjects: maths, philosophy, biology, physics
"I only got one C for English," he added ruefully.
"I must study hard to improve my English results," he said, adding that
he admires Phnom Penh students' access to finances and education.
"I am not rich enough to pay for a part-time tutor," he said.
Kandal province’s Chhay Sopanhana says she will study medicine.
The news of widespread bribery and cheating during the exams
comes as no surprise to Heng Kothai. "Students are cheating all over
the country," he said. "It is normal in Cambodia that students collect
money for proctors. Government measures to crack down on such bad
habits seem ineffective," he said.
According to Heng Kothai, even noncheating students have to cough up
cash for teachers. "It is a must to get all 25 students in the
examination room to pay," he said. "I did not cheat so I did not pay,
but proctors demanded all students to pay, so my friend spent money for
me. Everyone knows I did not cheat."
The student is now in Phnom Penh searching for an appropriate
university to continue his education. "I want to pursue my degree in
civil engineering [as] it is easy to find a good job in this field."
Nhoek Sakun, deputy head of the Department of High Schools at the Siem
Reap Provincial Education Department, said that he was happy to see a
student in his province receive one of the only two perfect scores in
the country. "The good result shows his true capacity: He is an
outstanding student in Siem Reap," he said.
However, Nhoek Sakun admitted that outstanding students with a sense of
ethics were a rarity. "We cannot prevent all cheating. Cheating still
Chroeng Lim Sry, of the Ministry of Education, said he was pleased to
see that the two students who received A's used only their knowledge to
pass the exam.