For 21 years, Srey Borany has been educating, monitoring and assessing students. And for 21 years, she has been able to extort money from them in exchange for fudged grades.
This year, however, for the very first time, Ms. Borany’s single biggest windfall outside of her meager teacher’s salary was cut off, as the Education Ministry enlisted the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) to aggressively stamp out the bribery and cheating that has long tainted the grade 12 exam.
“I could get about 200,000 riel [about $50] from students during the national exams, but this year I could not get any money from students,” said Ms. Borany, 43, on the grounds of Phnom Penh’s Bak Touk High School after the close of the exam Tuesday.
“Before, the exam was not so strict,” she said. “Now it has turned 180 degrees.”
At the behest of the Education Ministry—led by Hang Chuon Naron, a newly appointed reformist minister who earned an economics master’s degree in Moscow—the ACU stationed officials at each of the 154 exam centers across the country and enlisted and trained more than 2,000 volunteer exam monitors.
The ACU team interfaced with the ministry’s own team, which comprised two teachers in each room, a controller for each building, and an inspector and head at each exam center.
The teachers and controllers, the ACU team was told, were to be watched just as closely as the exam takers, as they were part of the collusion that saw students graduate with inflated grades and teachers go home with fattened wallets.
This monitoring, carried out largely by young, educated volunteers, did not sit well with teachers.
“The teachers are angry because they are being ordered around by the observers,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, which has more than 10,000 members and is a fierce critic of the government’s treatment of its educators.
Mr. Chhun, like many teachers spoken to over the course of the two-day exam, said that young people entering the teachers’ domain and giving orders to professionals, some in their jobs for decades, compromised their integrity.
“I am not happy the ACU allowed young observers to control me as I have about 20 years experience as a teacher,” Ms. Borany said.
Contacted on Thursday, Ros Salin, chief of Mr. Naron’s cabinet and spokesman for the Education Ministry, claimed the teachers were appreciative of the ACU’s assistance.
“If they were alone or only had two proctors in the room, the job is very hard for them,” Mr. Salin said. “The ACU and proctors worked together to make the exam clean.”
However, one scenario that unfolded at Chaktomuk Primary School in Phnom Penh was evidence that the relationship between the two parties was sometimes less than amicable.
Un Touch, 27, an ACU official who led the observer team at Chaktomuk, raised the ire of a number of proctors over the two days and at times engaged in heated exchanges due to her aggressive monitoring of candidates.
After the exam, Ms. Touch, like all ACU officials, completed a report outlining what she had witnessed. She assessed some proctors as “inactive” in their duty to stop candidates copying answers.
“It is the reality inside the class,” Ms. Touch said. “I just record what I have seen.”
Neang Sakhorn, head of the center at Chaktomuk, was unimpressed with Ms. Touch’s judgment and refused to sign off on the report.
“It is unacceptable and I will not sign it,” Mr. Sakhorn told Ms. Touch. “If I sign it, then no teachers will take part next time.”
Ms. Touch, however, stood by her report and filed it with the ACU minus Mr. Sakhorn’s signature.
Many observers canvassed across the country said proctors were frustrated with the ACU presence, which greatly disrupted the traditional flow of cash come exam time.
Korm Chan Reaksmey, an observer at Preah Norodom Primary School in Phnom Penh, said Education Ministry officials charged with frisking candidates on their entry to the school grounds were less than thorough.
“They closed one eye and opened the other,” she said.
Teachers and students at her exam center had developed a system to warn each other of the movements of the ACU officials, she said, suggesting money had changed hands. “Some teachers gave a sign to students to inform when we had nearly reached their room,” she said. “The proctors made sure we knew they did not like us by the way they looked at us.”
Mr. Salin of the Education Ministry insisted there had been a good relationship between the ministry and the ACU, and that teachers had done their job “perfectly.”
But for Ms. Borany, who like the majority of the nation’s 88,000-plus teachers relies on informal payments to supplement her wage of about $120, two days working alongside the ACU was two days too many.
“Next year, there is no need for the ministry to use us as proctors,” Ms. Borany said. “They can use the young observers instead.”
(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)