One Arrested, 19 Faint on the First Day of National Exam

A grade 11 student may face jail time after he was arrested in Phnom Penh on Monday for impersonating his older brother and attempting to sit the grade 12 national exam in his place, officials said.

Phorn Tola came from Prey Veng province to pose as his brother, Khim Vireakboth, at Wat Koh High School in Daun Penh district, and he became this year’s first victim of strict rules introduced in 2014 to clean up a test that has been plagued by cheating and corruption, according to Ly Kimleng, deputy commander of the district military police.

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron watches students taking the grade 12 national exam at Preah Sisowath High School in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Khem Sovannara)
Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron watches students taking the grade 12 national exam at Preah Sisowath High School in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Khem Sovannara)

“In a statement, [Mr. Tola] said he wanted his older brother to pass,” Mr. Kimleng said, adding that his officers were called to the high school by the Anti-Corruption Unit.

Education Ministry spokesman Ros Salin said Mr. Tola would be punished.

“We responded swiftly by preventing the candidate from taking the exam for two years and sending the arrested [student] to the ACU to face the law,” Mr. Salin said.

“Due to his age, whether to punish him or just reprimand him is the decision of the ACU,” he added, declining to give Mr. Tola’s age.

Mr. Salin also said that 19 students fainted before or during the exam, which dictates placings at state universities, and that at least 1,286 of the 84,390 registered test-takers were absent.

In the lead-up to the exam— and following the introduction last year of stringent monitoring by Education Ministry officials and ACU observers—Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron reiterated last week that those who attempted to take the test for others would be treated as criminals. ACU chairman Om Yentieng said they would be charged with using a forged public document, which is punishable by between two and five years in prison.

Mr. Yentieng and his deputy, Nuon Bophal, who is in charge of the ACU’s observers, could not be reached Monday.

Speaking at Phnom Penh’s Preah Sisowath High School on Monday morning, Mr. Chuon Naron, who oversaw last year’s reforms —which resulted in the initial pass rate plummeting to roughly 25 percent—urged students to take responsibility for their futures.

“It is the obligation of the student to study, and it is the obligation of the Education Ministry to implement the law,” he said. “The Education Ministry cannot be blamed for immediately tightening the exam [regulations].”

“We have to do it because we won’t be able to compete with other countries in Asean if our students neglect their studies,” he added.

Outside high schools in Phnom Penh on Monday, students generally seemed more positive than they did during exam time last year, when, in many cases, cramming in the minutes before the test often gave way to crying.

“I believe in the quality of the exam, so I readied myself in advance,” Kob Nasaihas said outside Hun Sen Bun Rany Wat Phnom High School. “I heard it is even stricter than last year.”

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