Zero-tolerance exam policy is right approach

By You Sokunpanha

This opinion article was published on the Phnom Penh Post on August 13, 2014.

Dear Editor,

This year’s grade 12 exams concluded with minimal cheating and corruption, according to preliminary reports. This is in contrast to recent editions of the exams where test-day bribery, plagiarism and leaks were common and broadly tolerated.

The benefits to society of this development are obvious and manifold. Students will apply themselves more to their study and will, in the process, obtain real skills and knowledge that will enable them to compete with peers within and beyond Cambodia.

In the absence of cheating, whether a student passes an exam is now determined by how much he puts into preparation – not how much money he can pay the proctors.

And, less tangibly but no less importantly, test takers – most of whom are just going from adolescence into adulthood – learn first-hand that money cannot buy everything and that passing by cheating has no moral worth.

The examination has not been without its critics, however.

Some argue that the test-takers were set up to fail because of the poor quality of education they received in their 12 years of schooling. These critics highlight problems such as an outdated curriculum; inadequate physical infrastructure; unqualified, badly paid and frequently absent teachers; and so on. It follows, they contend, that the no-cheating policy was overly hash – even unfair.

While they are correct in stressing the poor quality of education, the conclusion they draw about the recent exams is rather absurd.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Addressing poor education by turning a blind eye to cheating is like losing weight by tampering with the scale: No matter what the test scores or the scale reading say on paper, the students remain incompetent and you stay overweight.

The best way to deal with the substandard teachers and curriculum is to recruit and train better teachers and develop a better curriculum.

The national exam’s problems are ones that are both fundamental and entrenched. Continuing to tolerate cheating during exams contributes nothing towards a solution.

Furthermore, zero tolerance for cheating is more than about improving education quality. It is also about fairness: to those who work hard to prepare and to those who cannot afford to pay bribes. It is about ensuring that, all things being equal, an oknha’s son and a farmer’s daughter stand the same chance of passing the exams.

Though flawed, this line of argument brings out an important fact: it is not possible to improve education merely by introducing strict oversight of exams. Zero tolerance towards cheating, leaks and bribery is not a panacea.

The good news is that the no-cheating policy is only one of eight education priorities outlined by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. The bad news is that, while it took a year to plan and implement a fair exam, it will likely take decades to raise the whole education system to an acceptable level of quality.

It is also important to remember that this encouraging development may well be short-lived. The last time we had a comprehensive no-cheating policy at a national-level examination was in the early 1990s, before many of the recent test-takers were born. A strong minister, Ung Huot, was at the helm of the Ministry of Education then, just as a strong minister, Hang Chuon Naron, is in charge now.

Back then, the policy was swiftly abandoned when the minister left his post. It remains to be seen whether this time around the policy will transform into something more durable and less personality-driven. This depends, first of all, on the success of efforts to strengthen processes and institutions that will outlive public figures. Secondly, there must also be buy-in from parents and other stakeholders so that this policy will evolve into a culture that will, in turn, grow into a habit.

Despite its shortcomings, the recent examination was by most measures a success. The minister of education and his staff should be congratulated for their convictions and efforts. Reform like this needs to be applauded, as it shows that deep-rooted problems can be solved with a combination of pragmatism and genuine political will. With acknowledgement and encouragement from us ordinary citizens, this good example may even spread beyond the education sector.

You Sokunpanha
Phnom Penh

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Cheating: bad for the students and the nation

By Vong Socheata

This opinion article was published on the Phnom Penh Post on August 13, 2014. A Khmer version was published on the Post Khmer on August 11, 2014.

Dear Editor,

I have been following stories on the yearly 12th-grade national exam closely for some time. When I wrote an opinion piece published in a local foreign-language newspaper in July 2011, I was extremely frustrated and without hope regarding the poor quality of the exam, which was marred by rampant bribery and cheating.

To my pleasant surprise, this year I got to witness something completely remarkable – the exam was significantly improved. This event restored my hope.

This year I volunteered to participate in the August 4-5 testing at the Chaktumuk Primary School examination centre. It was an effort led by the Anti-Corruption Unit in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. There, I had the rare chance to witness a significant improvement in the exam.

While bribery and cheating were rampant in the past decade, this time, students were allowed to bring just three items into testing rooms: a pen, a pencil and a ruler. However, there were still some irregularities, including attempts to bribe proctors and students looking at each other’s papers during the test.

There were also some reports of observers being taunted, threatened or physically attacked by students for catching them cheating. However, these irregularities were minimal. The entire national exam process was conducted in a satisfactory manner, according to Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron. According to an official statement from the Ministry of Education, the exam was held relatively smoothly.

Although results of the exams are yet to be announced, I am confident that the entire process was a huge improvement, as stated by the ministry and the media, and indeed as I witnessed at an exam centre myself.

The bribery and cheating at the exam in the past has done considerable economic harm to the nation. I greatly applaud the new leadership of the Education Ministry for demonstrating a very strong level of commitment to tackling this rampant problem.

This new education reform not only tackles the issue of the actual process of the 12th-grade exam itself, it also sends a warning message to the students, their younger brothers and sisters and their parents that corruption and bribery during the exams are no longer tolerated.

Vong Socheata
Phnom Penh

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Building Institutions in Cambodia: Connecting the Competent Individuals

By Heng Dyna

Yes, institutions matter. Prosperity depends less on culture or geography or rulers’ expertise but much more on “institutions”, i.e. property rights, economic freedom, equality before the law, and trusted enforcement of contracts. Markets cannot function well without institutions. And countries need institutions for long-term stability and effective policies.

But, in the case of Cambodia, most of the discussions so far end with “Cambodia needs to build effective institutions”. There has been no much discussion beyond that, i.e. how should Cambodia build its effective institutions? Which institutions first in the sequence? Given the demographic trend and generational transition in Cambodia’s leadership, Cambodia will need to find ways and then build effective institutions as soon and much as possible.

It may sound paradoxical, but this article argues that to graduate from individual-based system, we need start with competent individuals building institutions. Therefore, Cambodia needs to identify, connect, support, and empower those individuals to build their own institutions and create the momentum of institutional building process at national level.

A country needs effective institutions because it wants to promote justice, rule of law, sustainable growth and development, continuity and smooth transition, all of which are difficult to achieve when the country depends largely on certain individuals. But how do we graduate from there? In an attempt to find out how, I ask two questions: a. how have the other countries built their institutions?, and b. Has Cambodia ever built a good institution so far? What are the lessons?

For the second question, I ask further: Which institutions and at what level? Who has tried to do what? Have he/she failed or succeeded? Can we learn from our past? The questions led me to a Cambodian individual who has been successful in building an institution in a complex political environment. That is Mr. Ek Sonn Chan, the former Director General of Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA). This article attempts to draw attention to his example and provoke the discussions on why and how his success can be multiplied and his strategies in addressing incentives and management issues can be applied in other institutions. And if not, why not.

The success story of Ek Sonn Chan can serve as a good example of how a competent individual can contribute to institution building, at least at local level. Even with resistance to institutional reforms and with gun pointing at his head by military generals in some occasions, he has proved that institution building can be made by leveraging his capability, courage, and external support. His practical approach and success are highlighted in Princeton University’s “Innovation for successful Society”

After the UN-organized election in 1993, PPWSA was one of the very difficult and corrupt public institutions. PPWSA faced many challenges ranging from the bill-collection problem, which was related to the performance of the collector, the fact that powerful people refused to pay their water bills, and the inefficiency of the water supply system. Despite constraints and resistance of vested interest groups, Mr. Chan was able to implement several reforms to provide the clean and safe water supply in Phnom Penh, leveraging financial assistance and expertise from the international community to create incentives and effective rules. Today, PPWSA is one of the most efficient operating water authorities in the world. It is well respected and valued by the people, the governments, and the donor community for its achievement. This story is a vivid illustration of how an individual (local talent) build an effective institution. It is this story that shapes my thought that Cambodia needs to identify, connect, and support these individuals. Together, these individual can create the national momentum to build institutions. Although it will take time and the speed of institutional building will also depend on the political support, it is possible.

Within the complexity of political system and incentives issue, it may be hard to think of ways to build institutions. However, Mr. Chan’s case should give us some confidence and hints on how we should move forward in our institutional building process. In that regards, our discussion needs to dig deeper on how to address the incentives and capable individual problem, and limited quality of institutions. Indeed, these issues should be viewed as circular or intertwined.

It is a big loss for Cambodia if we (Government, private sector, and Cambodian people) do not find, connect, and support these competent individuals. It is one of the reasons why CEA has been building platform to connect people across institutions and generations. If we can connect and support competent individuals to succeed, we can expect not only formal institution building, but also a more informal institutional building such as expanded social network building and other cultural and social transformation.

Again, please read this interview and share your thought. For technical discussion on building institutions, see the World Development Report 2002 “Building Institutions for Markets: Innovate, Connect, and Compete”.

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A Bird’s Eye View on Cambodia: Education Quality and Conflict risks

By Heng Dyna

Cambodia should not view the recent exam fiasco as a separate issue from the political uncertainty and risks in the country. They are the two dots Cambodia needs to connect. Education plays very important role in reducing the risks of a country falling into conflict and unrest. The risk Cambodia is seriously facing now is the friction between military and youth.

In average, as presented in the book “the Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier at Oxford University, it takes between 15 to 30 years for a country to graduate from a fragile status. If this statistics is right, then counting from 1998, Cambodia may still have another ten years to be out of the hazardous range. In other words, it needs to have two more stable terms to lay out the very conditions to rule out the disastrous down side risks.

However, how fast and far a country can graduate from fragile status depends on the speed of improving education and building institutions. Indeed, a relatively high proportion of young, uneducated men in a country increase the risks of conflicts and unrest. They can be easily manipulated or dragged into uncontrollable violence. Had we make much more progress in education quality over the last 15 years, the risk would have been lower. Therefore, the first and foremost task for Cambodia is to get their population, especially youth, a quality basic education as soon and as much as possible.

The question of transformation in Cambodia is a question of education, institution, and leadership. We must be very intentional about how we train our citizen and future leaders with ethics and responsibility. We have to train leaders of exceptional integrity,who have the ability to confront complex problems, ask the right questions, and come up with workable solutions. Leaders should also have a strong sense and capability in risk management, i.e. concerning about the potential worse outcome for the country and thus identifying the direction they should move.

I am talking not about just political leaders we’ve heard a lot about, but also about the professionals who are trained and assigned to be the guardians of our society -lawyers, judges, policemen, teachers, engineers, doctors, and civil servants.

By improving its education quality, Cambodia can move on to build effective institutions and effective public services, needed to be in place to ensure a country’s long-term stability. I believe that if we involve Cambodian students in good education, if we have them discuss the real issues that they confront and if we give them skills that enable them to engage the real world, their potentials can be unleashed. And when Cambodia has many capable youth, the probability of having a very good leader becomes higher while that of instability also decreases. As argued in the book “Why nations fail” by two MIT economists, political stability without inclusive‟ institutions such as good education system may enable an economy to grow at limited extent, but will not permit the full ascent to modern prosperity.

To predict a country’s future, ones should observe its students and youth. Now, the winds of generational change appear to be blowing already. But the wind direction and Cambodia’s long-term development will depend on how its young population succeeds in possessing quality education and social engagement in the productive and innovative ways.

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ដោយ វង្ស សុជាតា

អត្ថបទនេះត្រូវបានចេញផ្សាយនៅក្នុងកាសែត  Phnom Penh Post  នៅថ្ងៃទី២៣ ខែកក្កដា ឆ្នាំ២០១៣

កាលពីថ្ងៃ សុក្រ ទី ១៩ ខែកក្កដា ឆ្នាំ២០១៣ អស់រយៈពេលជិតពីរម៉ោងនាពេលថ្ងៃត្រង់ ខ្ញុំបាន ឃើញដោយផ្ទាល់ភែ្នកនូវព្រឹត្តិការណ៍ដ៏ធំមួយជាលើកដំបូង គឺភាពសកម្មរបស់យុវជនខែ្មរ ក្នុងការចូលរួមក្នុងដំណើរការនយោបាយ។ មានប្រជាជនរាប់ម៉ឺននាក់ ដែលភាគច្រើនជា យុវជនប្រុស-ស្រី បានចូលរួមដងែ្ហការ វិលត្រឡប់មកប្រទេសកម្ពុជាវិញរបស់មេដឹកនាំ គណបក្សប្រឆាំង លោក សម រង្ស៊ី ក្រោយពីលោកបាននិរទេសខ្លួនពីប្រទេសកម្ពុជា អស់រយៈពេល ជិតបួនឆ្នាំ ដោយសារហេតុផលដែលលោកនិយាយថាជារឿងនយោបាយ។

ក្បូនដងែ្ហអ្នកគាំទ្រលោក សម រង្ស៊ី បានឈរយ៉ាងកកកុញ ចាប់ពីព្រលានយន្តហោះ រហូតតាម ដងផ្លូវសហព័ន្ធរុស្សី ឆ្ពោះទៅកាន់សួនប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ។ ក្នុងអំឡុងពេលនោះ មិនមែនមានតែ ក្បួនយុវជនគាំទ្រគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិរបស់លោក សម រង្ស៊ី នោះទេ ក្បួនយុវជនគាំទ្រគណបក្សប្រជាជន របស់លោកនាយករដ្ឋមន្រ្តី ហ៊ុន សែន ក៏មានវត្តមានដែរ ដែលបានធ្វើដំណើរ ពីទិសខាងត្បូងឆ្ពោះមកកាន់វត្តភ្នំ។ ខ្ញុំបានឃើញក្បួនដង្ហែយ៉ាងធំរបស់ យុវជនគាំទ្រគណបក្ស ប្រជាជន ជួបប្រទះគ្នាជាមួយក្បួនយ៉ាងធំរបស់យុវជនគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិ នៅម្តុំមន្ទីរពេទ្យ ព្រះអង្គឌួង ដែលមានការស្រែកហ៊ោ យ៉ាងខ្លាំងពីក្បួនទាំងពីរក្រុម។

ការស្រែកហ៊ោយ៉ាងខ្លាំងនោះបានធ្វើឲ្យប្រជាជនជាច្រើន ដែលឈរនៅទីនោះ រួមទាំងខ្ញុំផង មានការព្រួយបារម្ភយ៉ាងខ្លាំងថា អាចនឹងមានការប៉ះទង្គិចគ្នា។ ប៉ុន្តែជាកុសលល្អណាស់ ដែលពុំមានការប៉ះទង្គិចគ្នានោះទេ ហើយក្បួនរបស់គណបក្សប្រជាជនក៏បានបន្ត ធ្វើដំណើរឆ្ពោះទៅប៉ែកខាងលិចវត្តភ្នំ។ ហេតុការណ៍នេះ បានធ្វើឲ្យខ្ញុំមានក្តីរំភើប និងកោតសរសើរ ដល់យុវជនគាំទ្រគណបក្សទាំងពីរ។ ខ្ញុំសងេ្កតឃើញថាការបោះឆ្នោតនៅក្នុងប្រទេសកម្ពុជា លើកនេះគឺមានភាពខុសគ្នាពីការបោះឆ្នោតលើកមុនៗ ដោយសារថា មានយុវជនជាច្រើនបានចូលរួមក្នុងដំណើរការនយោបាយ តាមរយៈការគាំទ្រគណបក្ស ទាំងអស់ដែលនឹងប្រកួតនៅថៃ្ងទី២៨ ខែកក្កដា ខាងមុខនេះ។ ទោះជាមានការរាយការណ៍ថា មានអំពើហិង្សាមួយចំនួនតូចនៅក្នុងអំឡុងពេលឃោសនា បោះឆ្នោតក៏ដោយ ក៏ស្ថានភាពជាទូទៅមានលក្ខណៈល្អប្រសើរ។ មានការរាយការណ៍ថា មានការជួបប្រទះគ្នារវាងក្បួនយុវជនរបស់គណបក្ស ធំៗទាំងពីរនៅតាមខេត្ត ប៉ុន្តែពុំមាន ការប៉ះទង្គិចគ្នាជាលក្ខណៈហិង្សានោះទេ។ យុទ្ធនាការសន្តិភាពបែបនេះ កំពុងកើតមាននៅ ទូទាំងប្រទេស។ ការបោះឆ្នោតលើកនេះ ជាព្រឹត្តិការណ៍ប្រវត្តិសាស្រ្តលើកដំបូងបំផុតដែលមាន ការចូលរួមយ៉ាងច្រើនពីយុវជនកម្ពុជា។ បើប្រៀបធៀបកាលពីប៉ុន្មានឆ្នាំមុនៗ ជាពិសេសកាល ពីការបោះឆ្នោត ឆ្នាំ២០០៨ យុវជនកម្ពុជាជាច្រើន មិនបានចាប់អារម្មណ៍នឹងនយោបាយ និងការបោះឆ្នោតនោះទេ។

លើកនេះមានយុវជនប្រុសស្រីជាច្រើន មានសេចក្តីក្លាហាន ក្នុងការបង្ហាញជាចំហពីការគាំទ្រ គណបក្សដែលពួកគេស្រឡាញ់។ ទោះជាមិនទាន់មានតួលេខ ពីចំនួនពិតប្រាកដរបស់យុវជន ដែលចូលរួមក្នុងការបោះឆ្នោតក៏ដោយក៏មានរបាយការណ៍ជាច្រើនបានបង្ហាញឲ្យឃើញពីយុវជននៅតាមខេត្ត-ក្រុង កំពុង ចូលរួមយ៉ាងសកម្ម។ មានខ្លឹមសារខ្លីៗដែលយុវជនរបស់គណបក្សធំៗបានផ្សព្វផ្សាយទូទាំងខេត្ត-ក្រុង។

ក្នុងចំណោមអ្នកចុះឈ្មោះបោះឆ្នោតចំនួន ៩,៥ លាននាក់ មានយុវជនដែលមានអាយុពី១៨ដល់ ៣០ ឆ្នាំមានចំនួន ៣,៥ លាននាក់ ដែលក្នុងនោះមាន ១,៥ លាននាក់ជាអ្នកបោះឆ្នោតលើកទី១។ នៅសល់រយៈពេលមិនដល់មួយសបា្តហ៍ទៀតទេ ដែលប្រទេសកម្ពុជាត្រៀមនឹងមានការ បោះឆ្នោតសភានីតិកាលទី៥។ ខ្ញុំពិតជាសង្ឈឹមថា យុវជនកម្ពុជានឹងបន្តប្រកាន់ខ្ជាប់នូវវប្បធម៌ អហិង្សានិងភាពអត់ធ្មត់ ទោះជាពួកគេគាំទ្រគណបក្សនយោបាយណាមួយក៏ដោយ។ ខ្ញុំសង្ឃឹមថា ភាពសកម្មរបស់យុវជនកម្ពុជា នឹងជំរុញលើកទឹកចិត្តដល់យុវជននៅកម្ពុជាទាំងអស់ដែលមាន ឈ្មោះបោះឆ្នោត នឹងសម្រេចចិត្តទៅបោះឆ្នោតនៅថៃ្ង ២៨ ខែកក្កដា ខាងមុខនេះ៕

វង្ស សុជាតា

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