Just 18 per cent of more than 60,000 hopeful students who re-sat the grade 12 national exams earlier this month have passed, according to official results released yesterday.
No students scored A or B grades, while one student scored a C grade. A total of 55 students received a D grade while the vast majority – 10,815 students – passed with the lowest E grade.
The 17.94 per cent pass rate was lower than the first tests in August, when a government blitz on cheating and corruption brought a dramatic drop from an 87 percent pass rate in 2013. Some 25 per cent passed the first round this year.
Prime Minister Hun Sen personally intervened to announce a re-sit for those who had failed the all-important exams, which are essential to pass for most university degree courses.
Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron, who is spearheading reforms, said yesterday that despite the lowly scores, the re-test was “worthwhile”.
“Even though we made a big effort to help students, just a few more students passed,” he said yesterday.
“[But] in terms of extra spending and the extra effort, it was still worthwhile because we helped more than 10,000 pass.”
Naron also said the dismal results for the second exam were “logical”, as the country’s top students had already passed during the first round.
“If [the percentage of students who passed] was higher than last time, we’d be very suspicious,” he said.
At Preah Sisowath High School in central Phnom Penh hundreds of students morosely listened to the announcement of results broadcast by loudspeaker yesterday afternoon.
“It’s not an easy year for me,” said an 18-year-old female student that declined to be named after learning she had failed.
“I knew that this would happen because I’m not a good student. Even though I tried to study hard this past month, I still couldn’t do any better than before.”
The crying teenager said she would have to repeat grade 12 again.
But for the few who succeeded, celebrations were ecstatic.
Lok Chanvisal, 18, who passed with an E grade, cheered and jumped around with his friends before quickly calling his father to pass on the good news.
“I was trying so hard in the last month and I never went out with my friends like I used to do,” he said, adding that he was ready to re-ignite his social life, starting last night. “It’s time for Halloween [partying], which coincides with our success.”
Education watchdogs, however, were critical that the government shelled out $2.5 million to organise the re-test, given that hardly any students passed.
“Allowing all the students who failed [to re-sit] was a waste of government budget. There should have been criteria so students who scored too low the first time [just] failed and did not get a retry,” San Chey, country coordinator for social accountability group ANSA-EAP, said.
“The scores indicate we should have great concern for the quality of education in Cambodia.”
CNRP whip Son Chhay, who also serves as deputy head of the parliamentary commission on finance and banking, said the government’s move was “very positive”.
Chhay added that he believed $250 could be reached well before 2018 if reforms were expedited. Getting civil servants back on side was “a question of survival” for the CPP, he said.
But unions representing public workers yesterday had no praise for the government.
“Why do they have to wait until 2018?” said Rong Chhun of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association.
Cambodian Independent Civil Servant Association head Kao Poeun said: “Despite the recent raises, their salaries are still low, so they won’t provide citizens with good public services. They will still try to make money through corruption.”