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Ahead of ‘Clean’ Exams, Bookshops See Fall in Business

Books for sale in Bak Touk Bookshop in Phnom Penh. (Photo by Leng Sreynich/VOA Khmer)
Books for sale in Bak Touk Bookshop in Phnom Penh. (Photo by Leng Sreynich/VOA Khmer)

The owners of bookshops near the Bak Touk High School would usually be doing a roaring trade at this time of year.

The grade 12 examinations each August have long been an annual boom time for the shops where students copied cheat sheets for the exams. But last year the government initiated a country-wide crackdown on cheating, which Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron has said will be extended to this year’s tests beginning next week.

The owner of the Bak Touk Bookshop, who goes by the nickname Bros, told VOA Khmer that business was down dramatically on previous years. Even last year, he said, many students would use the shop’s photocopying facilities to duplicate cheat sheets in the hope that they would help, despite public announcements in advance that the exams would be conducted fairly for once.

Students from outside of Phnom Penh come to the capital in the run up to the exams in order to take private tuition, but many also use the opportunity to buy cheat sheets, which they can then distribute among their friends.

“Last year, a week before the exam there were still some students from the provinces who came to buy cheat sheets in order to cheat during the exam,” Bros said. “They believed that those sheets might have been the same as the real test and they would be able to cheat.”

Last year’s crackdown appeared to be successful, and the cheat sheets that were on sale were likely fake. The national pass rate fell to only 25 percent from more than 80 percent in past years.

“Unlike the previous years, there are very few students who come to make copies,” said Sok Lout, the owner of the Leang Heng Print Scan and Photocopy Shop. “Some may have gone to their hometowns already [without cheat sheets] and some will go back home on Tuesday because the exam is on Monday next week.”

Some 88,000 students will attend 149 exam centers across the country on Monday and Tuesday, about 10,000 of them retaking the test after failing last year. For many of those students, the government crackdown on cheating has provided an incentive to study harder.

“I am determined not to cheat,” said Met Meng, a student from Srey Santhor High School who was visiting one of the copy shops this week. “I think that it will be impossible for students to cheat during the exam. I came here only to buy formula sheets and some books to read more before the exam starts, not to cheat during the exam.”

Similarly, Sung Chanarith from Hun Sen Kompong Ampel High School was also buying books in order to study more effectively.

“I will not cheat because I think I have some knowledge and understanding, and will be able do the test without cheating,” he said, adding that he still thought some cheating will be possible by students in the exams.

“Although there is a chance for me to cheat, I will still not cheat since I want to test my ability. I only came here to buy some books to read before the exam.”