The Education Ministry’s crusade to clean up the national high school exam continued Wednesday, with the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) releasing a statement inviting concerned parties to monitor exams in August and warning that cheats would be failed and effectively banned from sitting again for two years.
The ACU cited previously unenforced provisions against cheating on the exam from a 2011 ministerial directive and pledged, together with the Education Ministry, to punish any students found to be involved in collecting money for bribes or distributing cheat sheets.
“Any contestant who acts as a mastermind in collecting money or advising other contestants to collect money or give money to proctors must be automatically failed and banned for another year,” the ACU statement says.
Banned students would be able to again take the exam, which is held once a year, two years after an offense.
Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron last month announced that the national exam would become the sole factor in ranking students applying for a spot in state universities.
School grades, which were previously combined with exam scores to determine class rank, will no longer be entered into the equation due to being heavily tainted by bribery.
“Usually, there is a lot of cheating on the national exam so we will implement these very strict measures to protect the national exam,” Mr. Chuon Naron said Wednesday.
“Our education reform program has many components, and legitimizing high school graduates is one.”
The Education Ministry and ACU also called for NGO representatives and concerned individuals to apply as volunteer monitors at exams, where they would have the responsibility of identifying cheats —a role usually played by teachers and school administrators.
Ouk Chhayavy, deputy director of the 10,000-strong Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), said Wednesday that the government’s efforts to bring accountability to high schools amounted to a charade.
“From my point of view, the call for civil societies to join hands with the ACU and Education Ministry to combat corruption is just a drama to make people think that these bodies are actively combating corruption in education,” Ms. Chhayavy said.
“Corruption in education cannot be eliminated in a few days of exams.”
Since being appointed education minister for the fifth mandate, Mr. Chuon Naron has taken steps to bring credibility to an education system fraught with corruption.
But despite his efforts at reform, many teachers are still surviving on a salary of $100 per month.
“The best medicine for eradicating corruption is to raise the wage so that teachers can have a decent living,” Ms. Chhayavy said. “Then, the problem is solved.”
Luise Ahrens, a consultant to the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said that the proposed changes to the national exam system were positive but represented a small step in a long reform process.
“The minister is very serious about reforming the education system, but better monitoring of the national exam doesn’t necessarily change anything,” she said. “It is the quality of the curriculum that needs to be changed.”
The national exam will take place from August 4 through 6. The application form for prospective exam monitors is available on the ACU’s website.