CAMPRO Friendly Dialogue on Bac II Exams
August 18, 2011
Le President Restaurant
Compiled by Vong Socheata
On August 18th, a group of 16 people from CAMPRO met for a friendly dialogue over dinner at Le President. The dialogue was moderated by Dr. Mey Kalyan.
Dr. Mey Kalyan kicked off the meeting by asking the group what the key focus for the dialogue should be. He allowed some members to give background before deciding over which key issues to focus.
Mr. Sok Hach of the Golden Rice provided some background on the education in the 1960s in which education was essential and made top priority by the country leader then. He stressed that students who finished junior high school could serve as clerks and those who finished high school became highly-paid teachers. He went on to focus on the present high school education. He kindly shared the real experience as an employer, Golden Rice, which has three types of employees: top management, technicians and operators. There are currently about 200 technicians who do not necessarily possess Bac II certificate but who completed vocational skills. He suggested the policy on quality and quantity of students or graduates should depend on the country’s realistic economic development. He saw that Cambodia needs both serious technicians and unskilled labor.
Dr. Huot Pum recalled the time when he took the Bac II exams in 1992 which were very strict and he stilled resisted his parents’ offer of significant money to help in case it was needed. He echoed the need to have a balanced approach taking into account both the short term and long term needs.
Mr. Chan Sophal put a focus on the cheating and bribery in the current Bac II exams which require serious attention and action from the Ministry of Education. He provided a strong recommendation on establishing a strict measurement as a way of the exams. He said any compromise for social concerns should be dealt by lower the bar, or the minimum score for passing, but not allowing cheating. This would lead to more accurate classification of grades (A, B, C, D, E, F) for Bac II certificate holders for their appropriate further education and training.
Dr. Mey Kalyan said that the economic factor plays a role in improving the education. However, he strongly recommended that a clear standard be established to track on the quality and quality of education. He stressed on the importance of establishing an achievable mechanism.
Following background and brainstorming, many participants came to an agreement that improving the Bac II exams was the main focus.
Mr. Sao Sopheap stressed that we cannot simply compare the current education situation with the one in the 1960s, even with the ones in the 1980s and 1990s, as we have now more than 14 million people far bigger than the population in the 1960s. He acknowledged that irregularities happened not only during the recent exam but also in the past times and that improvement needs to be made not only at the exams but at students’ course of study more broadly. He questioned whether cheating exams used to happen in the 1960s. He said tertiary education was also important. He pointed out that the need to look at both economic and social reasons while attempting to manage Bac II exam strictly.
Mr. Chan Sophal said that the education system is not getting worse but it seemed that the Bac II exams got worse over the years as bribery during exams was reportedly widespread. He was concerned that unqualified students passing Bac II would continue to be unqualified in universities for all degrees and likely in their professional world (they may continue to pretend to know). If students face strict exams and are classified according to their capacity, they would better receive benefits from further training. He stressed on the importance of the Bac II exams for students to study hard for it in many years leading to the Bac II exam.
Mr. Kung Seangly said he was particularly concerned about the poor quality of teachers due to the corruption.
Mr. Seng Hong said that parents factor in the bribery and corruption and that the corruption is systematic.
Ms. Phean Sophoan agreed with the recommendation that reform starting at the BACII exam is crucially needed and can be done in a short term, however, improvement on the quality of education should also be considered seriously as a longer term strategy. The improvement can be made throughout in order to ensure students’ continuous performance at school and to prepare students especially those who cannot perform well intellectually without assistance from teachers to meet the requirement and pass the exam. Quality of service delivery was questioned vis-a-vis the capacity of teachers and the minimal training and capacity development provided to the teachers. She raised an example from her high school alumni that she found some of her friends who had outstanding performance at school now become doctors and engineers while others who performed poorly now work as teachers and they barely had capacity building during 15 years of teaching let alone the supporting teaching materials. She said the whole system needs to be improved.
Dr. Mey Kalyan acknowledged all the issues that were raised and said that it would take serious efforts to address those issues. He acknowledged that social and economic factors or other factors have to be taken into account. However, he offered a suggestion to focus on “what should be done tomorrow”, or identifying the pressing issue that needs immediate reform which can be achieved at reasonable costs.
Main Discussion (continued)
Ms. Cheu Ponleu suggested that Bac II exams be eliminated, so the government can save resources to focus on other priorities in improving each grade. She raised a concern that some young people whom she met on her field trips do not know what kind of books they should read as they do not have any guidance and motivation on this.
Mr. Kruy Virak challenged the point on the eliminating the Bac II exams and strongly recommended that they be maintained. He said more focus should be made as well on vocational training for those who fail the strict Bac II exams. By providing students failing BACII exam with skills and vocational training such as the ones currently undertaken by an ADB-funded TVET project, those with diverse potentials and intelligence, will have a fair chance to contribute to socio-economic development with their different vocational skills, which is a two-prong key to both reducing social crimes and delinquency and diversifying our labor force for economic investment, a strategy to address lack of skill labors currently encountered by investors.
Mr. Seng Hong said that the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training has established Technical and Vocational Education and Training Center (TVET) in all the 24 provinces/municipality and now has support from ADB. TVET provided trainings to students who do not possess the high school certificate and place them with different skills. There are about 100,000 trainees but only 40% enter the labor skills. The main challenge is a lack of job market for them. He said that this issue needs to be addressed in order to place labor skills in ASEAN 2015. He said that there are three kinds of skill labors: civil engineering, mechanic and ICT/Business.
Mr. Sok Hach reemphasized that his Golden Rice employs many students from the vocational training. He also offers internship for those whose qualifications are still insufficient. He emphasised that those who attended many years of schooling and training eventually perform much better than those who have not attended schools for the latter lack discipline.
Mr. Sao Sopheap said that we should not depend on only the system. Family and other factors need to be taken into account as well.
Ms. Noy Sophary suggested that reforms be needed. There will be priority to be taken, either at tertiary education or at general education level. By taking into consideration of the feasible cost (expense) and quicker result (more flexibility), putting first the tertiary education seems to be more visible. At the same time, we can also bring reform on high school level. She also mentioned that public outreach to mainstream the necessity of the reform is also important. In a number of ten, she would give 5 to tertiary education, 3 to reform at high school level, and 2 at media outreach (public education). When there is improvement at tertiary education, we can shift the priority to reform at high school level (increase to 5 for high school reform and 3 at tertiary education). Of course, before saying about this priority, we assumed that the increase in budget already in hands (the national agenda is already there).
Mr. Kong Chanveasna said that it would have been more important if there had been someone from the Ministry of Education to participate in the dialogue. He believed that the ministry must have a strategic approach to deal with this issue. He said the budget for education has been gradually increased. He latter provided a concise historical aspect to highlight the progressive track but acknowledge the system is not perfect and needs improvement.
Mr. Sok Leang strongly recommended that an appropriate and acceptable standard should be established. He offers a recommendation to discreetly lower the score in order to not fail students who are not capable. By doing this, students will perform according to their aim to get their desirable results while ensuring that there will not be many students who fail the exams. He also focused on the vocational training to accommodate those students who do not possess the Bac II certificates. This recommendation was applauded by Mr. Chan Sophal as the best compromise approach.
Mr. Hing Vutha offered his view that we should also focus on long-term approach in terms of economic perspective and demand.
Ms. Vong Socheata strongly recommended that a top priority be put on the Bac II exams and she was strongly convinced that this approach is achievable at reasonable costs. She said the state needs to actively intervene in this issue. By strengthening the Bac II exams, quality of education can be improved and corruption can be reduced among youths. This will have a long-term good impact on the society.
Mr. Sao Sopheap said that he agreed that Bac II exams need to be improved through the forms of stricter administration and punishment. He said peace has been sustained and the political stability has been made, yet the society is still to be fully stabilized. He said that now we are living in a vibrant society with democracy, free market economy, materialism, globalization, etc., and people need incentive and motivation to adapt these new ways of life.
Mr. Kim Chantha said that both family and the system need to move together.
Dr. Mey Kalyan acknowledged all the challenges made by the participants. He shared the view that Bac II exam should be a strict benchmark so that students work hard early on in order to pass it. He said that political will is needed to find key solutions. Finally, he expressed thanks and appreciation to the participants who discussed and came up with strategic approach to tackle the issue in the Bac II exams.
The dialogue ended in a cordial manner.