Phann Phoumin waited outside Don Penh High School for eight hours Monday, while his son took Cambodia’s national baccalaureate exams inside.
Hundreds of parents throughout the city left their jobs Monday to hold the same day-long vigil, as their sons and daughters completed tests that will directly determine their eligibility to graduate high school and pursue higher education.
“These exams show the Ministry of Education [who] are the good students,” Phann Phoumin said.
In a country where the literacy rate is about 37 percent and only a small percentage of the population graduates from high school, these exams—administered at the end of 12th grade—are no laughing matter.
And plenty of Cambodian families take them all too seriously.
In past years, attempts to cheat on state exams have been as elaborate and desperate as they have been commonplace.
Parents have often paid police to give answers to their children through school windows, according to Nhep Borath, who has been an exam monitor at Yu-kumthor High School for the past few years. Others would throw answers lashed to bricks into classrooms, sometimes injuring students and teachers.
This year, the Ministry of Education has taken new steps to stop cheating and educational corruption—but it remains to be seen whether they have done enough.
Police kept parents well away from school walls Monday. Sections of Streets 184 and 178 flanking Sisowath High School were closed off and crowds were held to the side of Norodom Boulevard opposite Don Penh High School.
Students taking the exams have been assigned to schools throughout Phnom Penh according to the first letter of their family names, to prevent friends from cheating in groups.
Also, five exam monitors have been positioned to each classroom of 25 students. According to Nhep Borath, the salaries of exam monitors have gone up this year and monitors have been told if they accept bribes from students they will not be re-hired for five years.
“In the past, I received 100,000 riels as an exam monitor, but this year I will receive 389,000,” Nhep Borath said.
After the first day of exams, the efforts to stop cheating seem to have been successful.
“We tried to collect money as a class to give to the teachers, but they did not accept it,” said Ear Rotnak, 20, a student at Baktouk High School.
“Some students brought answers into the test, but teachers took them,” he said. “I tried to watch other peoples’ answers, but I could not.”
Phon Phek, Don Penh municipal police chief, said no reports of cheating came in Monday.
But students will take the mathematics exam today, which is most likely to incur cheating because of its difficulty, Nhep Borath said.