Some Plan to Cheat While Others Count On Blessings

Despite the fact that his future rests upon the exam he is set to take Monday, 19-year-old Sun Virak is not nervous. He plans to cheat.

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron has touted Monday’s grade 12 national exam as a chance to reform the exam process, which has for years been plagued by widespread cheating and bribery, and restore confidence in the education system.

A group of students receives blessings from monks at the Samrong Andet pagoda Sunday in Phnom Penh's Sen Sok district. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)
A group of students receives blessings from monks at the Samrong Andet pagoda Sunday in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)

But even though the government has ramped up efforts to clean up the cheat-ridden exam, Virak said Sunday that he still planned to buy a copy of the exam and its answers to memorize before taking the test.

“It’ll cost from $200 to $300,” said Virak. “It will cost about $10 individually, because I will share it with my friends.”

Virak said the test would be delivered to him and his group of friends in Phnom Penh from an undisclosed province through a broker.

“My friends will copy the papers for me and other friends. I will read it and maybe bring it along with me on the exam day,” he said. “I just have to see the situation at the school where I will have the exam.”

This year, however, the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) will have representatives present at each of the 154 exam centers across the country.

In an effort to clean up the national exam, the government enlisted the ACU, which threatened jail time for those caught cheating, and issued a call for independent monitors. More than 2,000 volunteers have signed up to oversee the two-day exam, and will be placed alongside two teachers in one of 3,779 exam rooms.

Mr. Naron has also made the exam the sole factor for placement in state universities after years of graduates proceeding to post-secondary education without adequate knowledge.

“In all the cities and all the provinces the exams are sealed and in a container,” Mr. Naron said Sunday. “We took very strict measures. I am confident that [cheating] cannot happen.”

Mr. Naron added that one person has already been arrested in the lead-up to Monday’s exam for falsely promising students copies of the test in exchange for $40 in Kompong Cham province. However, he said the arrested person had already been “educated” and released.

“I don’t want to disclose the identity [of the person] because they have promised not to do so again,” he said.

The ACU, in a partnership with Transparency International Cambodia, has been airing TV commercials in the lead up to the exam showing monitors taking bribes from students.

“They’re meant to send a message to students that cheating is wrong,” said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International. “They must study very hard.”

Mr. Kol said he is unsure if the exams will be 100 percent clean, but is certain there will be less cheating than in previous years.

Sornt Heany, an 18-year-old student at Phnom Penh Thmey high school, said she is especially anxious about this year’s exam because of the government crackdown on cheating.

To calm her nerves, Ms. Heany, who has no plans to cheat, went to the Samrong Andet pagoda in Sen Sok district for a blessing.

“After having a blessing, I reduced my nervousness by 30 percent,” she said.

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