I have always known that cheating in exams and bribing teachers was a normal part of school life in Cambodia. As a volunteer and now teacher at an affluent orphanage, I myself have neither asked for, nor been offered money by the children in my classes. However, most lessons throughout the country begin with students depositing their additional fee on the teachers desk.
A report published in the Guardian yesterday highlights how the Cambodian government is clamping down, apparently successfully, on cheating in exams. Whilst I am one hundred percent in agreement that this corruption needs to end, placing policemen at exam venues and patting down the students before they are allowed to take their seats is not going to end the problem, at least not instantly. The problem is inherent within the wider society and the corruption that is rife throughout this country. People learn to live with corruption, from corruption, and for corruption. Without the additional fees paid by students, most teachers are unable to support themselves and their families because their salaries are too small. In order for the corruption to stop, these teachers need to be much better paid, and in order for that to happen, the government itself must combat its internal corruption.
Children learn about corruption from a very young age here, and consequently the patterns are repeating themselves. Every year children buy test answers, bribe examiners and coast their way through the syllabus. Consequently, when the crackdown occurred, the examination results fell dramatically – just 26% passed their Grade 12 this year compared to 87% in 2013. This puts into perspective just how many people were buying their education and yet not acquiring any knowledge from their time in the classrooms. Students have become complacent, knowing that they will be able to buy the exam answers so need not work hard at school. For years, high schools have been churning out “graduates” who, in reality, do not have the knowledge nor the skill sets which would be expected from someone with their qualifications. This is a pattern that continues to university level.
This new clampdown highlighted how problematic this corruption is for Cambodia, with just 11 students out of 90,000 achieving A grades. This shockingly low number suggests that Cambodia is struggling to produce high calibre students based on merit alone. Why? Because in many cases the teachers themselves bought their way through school, obtained their qualifications using dollars and are teaching syllabuses they themselves never passed. If this government initiative is continued, slowly but surely this pattern can be reversed, but it will be years before Cambodian children are receiving the high quality education that every child deserves.
For more information on this subject and the clampdown, please read the article that inspired this blog post and from which I obtained my statistics: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/02/cambodia-corruption-crackdown-exam-cheats
A follow-up article comprising of an interview with the Education Minister is also worth a read: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/meet-man-behind-exams