For Failed High School Students, an Array of Options Awaits

As about 60 percent of the tens of thousands of students who took the national high school exam—some twice—this year cope with failure, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said this week the dismal grades would only have a “minor impact” on university admissions and jobseekers.

Last week saw the release of the grade 12 re-sit exam results in which 10,871 candidates passed their second shot at the stringent test, which tripped up about 75 percent of the nearly 90,000 students who sat for the initial exam in August.

The total pass rate now stands at 40 percent, well below last year’s figure of around 80 per- cent. But Mr. Naron said the results would not necessarily mean less students going on to higher education.

“I don’t think that those who failed the school exam will miss out. Some universities offer programs to bridge the gap for those who did not pass. But also the students can choose to repeat the class,” Mr. Naron said.

Out of the 100,000 students who took the 2013 high school exam and passed—many through bribery and cheating, which were largely stamped out in this year’s exam—only 30,000 went to university, while the rest took vocational courses or went straight into the workforce, Mr. Naron said.

This year, he expects the university admission numbers to be similar, while those looking for jobs should not find it any more difficult than it was for their ill-prepared peers in previous years.

“For students looking for a job, the exam results will not make a difference because employers look for real ability not just the certificate,” he said.

University officials also expressed little concern over a dip in application and admission numbers, because despite a smaller pool for potential bachelor’s degree students, who require a high school diploma, there are plenty of alternative courses for students who failed the exam.

“Since the first results of the high school exam this year, enrollments have been just a bit less than last year due to the [low] pass rate,” said Bunny Wathanak Panha, deputy vice-chancellor of Phnom Penh’s Cambodian Mekong University.

“But overall, I think enrollment numbers will not be so different because students who failed can go to associate degree programs and vocational training,” he said.

Similarly, Ung Vanthoeun, vice-rector at Norton University, said although the number of students expected to enroll this year in bachelor’s degree programs at his school is about 2,500, 1,000 less than last year, students can enroll in other tracks.

“I think that even though the pass rate is low, the number of students who enroll for higher edu- cation would not change much because mostly they still can enroll at other level of courses,” Mr. Ung said.

Rami Sharaf, CEO of RMA Cambodia, a trade firm that has brought numerous global brands to the country, said the tighter exams would bring a balance to the number of youth seeking academic and vocational careers, and help bridge the skills mismatch in the job market.

“For those who want to pursue academics, they have the chance to redo the exam; and for others, it’s not the end of the world because they can get vocational training, which is much-needed,” he said.

“You may request a professional electrician or engineer but presently cannot find [one]. So for all those who do the vocational training it will provide a good input for the job market,” he said.

And for students who failed the exams or are too poor to carry on studying, there is the vast informal network of small businesses in the country, said Hay Bun Leng, deputy director of the National Employment Agency.

“Employment options after failing the exam depend on their family situation. For example, if they are poor they can get on-the-job training with small businesses,” such as electronic repair shops and beauty salons, he said.

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