School exam

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world (Nelson Mandela).

Every year, the final exams for secondary school will cause a lot of stress for many teenagers and their families all over the world. For many young people in developing countries, the result of that exam will have a large impact on their future possibilities and that’s certainly the case here in Cambodia.

Education in Cambodia isn’t of good quality yet. The Khmer Rouge valued manual labour and distrusted education. They murdered teachers and closed schools, so after 1980 the education sector had to be built up from scratch. At this moment around 95% of the children start at primary school, but the majority quit during or even before starting secondary school and leave without a diploma. The children that take the final exam are either the persistent ones or they come from well-to-do families where completing education is the norm. In Cambodia a diploma from secondary school is necessary to gain access to universities.

The national exams were taken in July, and last week the results were published. This year there were around 90,000 candidates, a usual amount. From those candidates, 25% passed the exam, of which more than 80% with a grade E. Last year, 87% of the candidates passed, a continuation of the rising trend from the years before, so this is a saddening result.
Although, it’s saddening that so few people passed the exam, but the reason behind it could be a real step forward. The bad results are not caused by the exam being too difficult, not more difficult than the last years in any case. It’s not caused by pupils suddenly being so stupid or because the quality of the education has worsened. No, this year the Ministry of Education made the wise decision to take the exam serious and prevent fraud. Sounds like the obvious? Well, not here, not until now. Until last year it was possible to take notes and mobile phones into the exam room. For an extra payment teachers delivered cheat sheets and if you really couldn’t cope, you could just let someone else take the exam for you. This school year, the Ministry had announced in September that they would fight the widespread cheating and, to the surprise of many candidates, they saw it through. They used independent monitors from the anti-corruption commission and NGO’s, they actually checked the identity of the candidates and they even excluded people from the exam that tried to cheat anyway. With this result.

But however good the background may be, this causes problems for all stakeholders. It’s a problem for the universities, which can only take new students that passed the exam and counted on much more students. It’s a problem for the candidates that failed, because they can forget a blooming career and it’s a problem for the government because the country screams for people with a higher education. To offer more people an opportunity to pass the exams, there will be a re-examination in October. I’m just curious whether the checks will be that strict again!

Update: the result of the re-examination was even worse, only 18% passed.

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next (Abraham Lincoln).

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