PHNOM PENH —
Cambodia’s education minister says this year’s effort to prevent final-year students from cheating on their exams worked well, and he is confident results will be better than they were for the class of 2014. Many pupils will be hoping the same, given that 60 percent of last year’s class failed after the government introduced the “no-cheating” policy.
Cambodia’s 88,000 final-year high-school students took their exams this week, with many nervous that the government’s “no-cheating” policy would sink their chances of securing a university place.
Some prayed for success at pagodas over the weekend, with one despondent student telling the Phnom Penh Post newspaper she hoped exam monitors would allow the students to cheat “in a small way, like reading each other’s answers.”
In this event her hopes were dashed: the policy was strictly enforced.
Some cheaters caught
Inevitably some students tried their luck: a few were caught sneaking in cheat sheets, and a Grade 11 student who tried to pass himself off as his less-clever older brother was arrested.
For the most part, it seems, the cheating that has long characterized exam-taking here was eliminated.
Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron is the person behind the policy, a key plank in his efforts to reform education and ensure that the previous system – which rewarded cheats – is replaced by a culture of merit that benefits those who work hard.
Minister Naron, who was appointed two years ago, is optimistic the pass rate will be higher this year. In part, he says, that is because pupils have studied more; but other changes have helped too, including improved teacher training.
“We have seen the change in students’ attitudes – especially we got reports from the schools that they worked harder, [and] they attended the additional classes on Saturday and Sunday that [were] offered by the teachers,” he said.
The minister hopes that eliminating cheating in exams will be the starting point in remedying the skills mismatch that emanates from Cambodia’s education system, which has long generated a large pool of graduates who lack the skills that employers need.
“Indeed, you know, we still have insufficiencies because for one year working is not enough, because for some subject matters it takes a few years at least – you know, two or three years. But we will see more progress this year compared to last year, and I believe that it is a change of mentality from the students. And it sets new habits,” he said.
Other changes include paying teachers higher salaries, and making sure schools have improved facilities and are better managed.
Fixing the shortcomings in Cambodia’s education system won’t be easy but, says Minister Naron, it made sense to start by preventing cheating in exams because that not only shows up deficiencies in the system, it also forces students to learn.
“All that spending – like spending on textbooks, spending on more resources, even higher salaries of teachers – if the students don’t learn then you cannot have [success with] that,” he said.
As for the Class of 2015, anecdotal evidence suggests most took the new no-cheating policy seriously and spent extra hours at their books. They will soon find out whether those efforts paid off.
Results are due out mid-September.