Disgusted by poor efforts, poor grades, poor supervision and continued corruption, government education adviser Chhay Yiheang is calling for the complete abolition of the diploma exam system.
“The diploma degree students earn will do them no good,” said Chhay Yiheang, who is a professor of philosophy at Phnom Penh University. “They cannot find jobs with this degree. The government should give a raise to teachers rather than hold this exam.”
In 1999, the government spent 4,678,560,110 riel (approximately $1,225,000) to conduct two sets of exams for ninth-grade students hoping to advance to senior high school. The government decided to give only one exam this year, on Monday and Tuesday. The cost for this year’s exams has not yet been disclosed.
The cost of guaranteeing a passing grade, however, can be calculated. A ninth-grade teacher in Phnom Penh who asked not to be identified said bribery by wealthier students was once again a problem this year.
He said efforts to bribe the exam center chief began as soon as exams commenced. “I was told to look for clients,” the teacher said, adding that the chief wanted $200 per student, so the teacher was asking for $250 or $300 so he would receive part of the profits.
“I have brought them three clients already,” the teacher said.
The newspaper Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace) reported that in Svay Rieng province, poor students had to pay 200,000 riel (about $52) and wealthier students $100 to pass the exam.
A government official hotly denied the Svay Rieng bribery charges. “I am furious at the news published in Koh Santepheap,” said Undersecretary of State for Education Hem Samkol. “I am here in Svay Rieng and the information is not true at all. But there could be some opportunists who spread this information so they can cheat students’ parents.”
Undersecretary of State for Education Chey Chap said his ministry is determined to make the tests a credible measure of what students have learned. “Those who dare to accept bribes will be in trouble,” he said. “They will be reprimanded, stopped from working, or brought to court if the case is serious.”
The ninth-grade teacher from Phnom Penh said he was initially encouraged by steps the government took to improve exam supervision. He said there were three test givers in each room instead of two as in the past, and that there was one test supervisor for every two classrooms, as opposed to one supervisor for four or five rooms before.
“We welcomed this strict move, but later we felt disappointed,” he said. “[It seemed] the measure was taken just to gather more bribe takers.”
The exams have been plagued for years, not just by bribery, but by cheating. It has not been uncommon for students to toss slips of paper with test questions written on them out the window of the exam room. Friends outside would toss back in slips of paper with the answers, sometimes wrapped around a small rock.