The Ministry of Education said Sunday that the percentage of ninth-graders passing their year-end exam increased this year but it also said that standards have been relaxed in order to allow more students to advance.
This year, 91,308 out of 102,216 ninth-graders—roughly 89 percent—passed the July 11 and July 12 examinations, said Va Savoeun, head of the Education Ministry’s examinations office. Last year, he said, 73 percent passed the tests.
But the improvement has been caused at least in part by a lowering of the bar, he said.
Last year, students had to earn 250 points out of a possible 500 points to pass. But this year students in most provinces only had to earn 220 points.
In Kandal, Takeo, Kompong Chhnang and Koh Kong provinces and Pailin municipality, students need only earn 210 points.
“This year, the Ministry of Education wanted the percentage of students passing the exam to be higher in order to reduce the number of students abandoning school nationwide,” Va Savouen explained. “This is why the student can earn 220 marks and pass the exam.”
Each province was required to pass 85 percent of its ninth-graders, the official said, so any province that could not meet that requirement was allowed to reduce the passing score to 210 points.
“The majority of ninth-graders are 14 or 15 years old, and they would abandon school if they could not pass the exam because they would consider their family’s financial situation first,” Va Savoeun said.
Touch Sam Oeun, director of Kandal province’s education department, said that of the 10,000 Kandal province students who took the exam this year, only 61 percent scored 250 or higher on the test.
“Eighty-five percent of students in my province could pass the exam after the ministry required only 210 total points,” he said.
The Cambodian Independent Teachers Association criticized the move to relax standards on the test.
“Students should pass the exam based on their own knowledge, not pass the exam because of reduced requirements,” Heng You, the association’s deputy president, said. The Ministry of Education needs to produce capable graduates that are up to standard, she said. To do that, teachers’ salaries should be raised to improve quality standards in schools, Heng You said.
Chea Se, Education Ministry undersecretary of state, said the ministry changed its test policy in order to combat illiteracy.
“I have no idea about the criticism…but we have tried our best to limit the number of students who abandon school,” he said.
Earlier this month, Chea Se had said that 230 or 240 points would constitute a passing score for this month’s exam.
Va Savoeun said that standards for the 12th grade exam will actually be raised in order to spur better learning in high school, and to produce more university-ready young adults.
“If those participants cannot earn a total of 350 points, they cannot pass the high school exam,” he said.