As more than 90,000 students across the country sweat over results that will rule them in or out of university, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday announced that those who failed the tightly monitored 2014 national exam would be given a second chance to pass.
“According to a reserve plan set up by the Ministry of Education, there will be a second exam,” Mr. Hun Sen said at a Norton University graduation ceremony on Koh Pich island Monday.
“He [Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron] will request this of me, but I would like to support his strategy,” the prime minister said, adding that it could be up to six weeks before the re-sit takes place.
In the wake of last week’s two-day exam—which was for the first time conducted under the eye of thousands of monitors recruited by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU)—teachers, proctors and observers predicted that pass rates would fall dramatically across the country as students’ attempts to cheat their way to graduation were thwarted.
Mr. Naron, who was moved from the Finance Ministry to reform the Education Ministry after last year’s national election, said Monday that the idea for a second-chance exam did not come from him.
“It’s the prime minister’s recommendation based on the practice of past,” Mr. Naron said via text message. “Students must go back to study.”
The Education Ministry announced in March that the national exam would become the sole factor in deciding state university placements, warning students of the new, strict conditions that would finally clean up an exam that has for years been heavily tainted by bribery and cheating.
Mr. Naron has repeatedly said he was aiming for high-quality graduates rather than a high quantity of passing scores among the students who sat the exam.
Ros Salin, spokesman for the Education Ministry, said Monday that he had no formal information regarding the re-sit, but that there would be a high-level meeting this week as the initial set of exams are being graded, a process that began on Sunday and is expected to take eight days.
Mr. Salin dismissed suggestions that the re-sit rewarded those who had made little or no effort while doing a disservice to those who had heeded the warnings and studied hard for last week’s exam.
“The students who studied have qualified already. They are competent,” he said. “Some others made mistakes or maybe were sick and will get another chance and those who are not competent will fail again anyway.”
The ACU, which recruited and trained in excess of 2,000 observers to monitor the exam and report instances of students cheating or teachers taking bribes, will be involved in the re-sit, Mr. Salin said.
Contacted Monday, ACU vice chairman Chhay Savuth said: “We have to wait for the result first.”
Chhay Vet, a 43-year-old teacher from Battambang province who traveled to Phnom Penh to correct exams, said that the pass rate was alarmingly low.
He said that on Sunday and Monday he marked 125 English exams and that “at most, 30 percent” of candidates had passed what was a “very simple exam, much easier than previous years.”
One of Mr. Vet’s colleagues in Battambang, Phan Rithydet, who was also selected to mark English exams, posted on his Facebook page a copy of the exam and stated that 90 percent of exams he had seen were marked fail.
Ngauv Chhunhak, the director of Boeng Keng Kang High School who helped direct an exam center in Phnom Penh during the two-day test, said there were a number of students who left exams blank.
“Around 20 percent of students [who sat the] exam this year will pass,” he predicted last week.
Neither Mr. Hun Sen nor Mr. Naron would give a reason for the second chance exam. However, Mr. Vet, the teacher from Battambang, offered some possible explanations.
“Two reasons,” he said. “First, [Mr. Hun Sen] wants to win political favor by helping the failed students to pass.”
“Second, the private universities need students, and the owners of the private universities, many of them are CPP officials.”
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey and Phorn Bopha)