None of the more than 5,000 independent observers recruited for this year’s national exams had background checks or their identity verified before they were allowed into testing centres, an official said yesterday.
During this year’s newly reformed and cleaned-up grade 12 exam, the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) was asked to mobilise its own armed officers, as well thousands of volunteer observers to help patrol the exam sites. For the first round of the two-day test in August, more than 2,000 volunteer observers joined the ranks. At the second iteration of the high-stakes, diploma-qualifying test last week, more than 3,200 observers signed on to help.
“The Anti-Corruption Unit did not ask for any background information from the people who wanted to be observers because we had over 3,000 observers so we just selected those who applied,” said Ma Soyinda, director of the unit’s education and prevention department.
In the first exam, two independent observers were dismissed after they were caught trying to take a picture of the exam with their phones, and another two were sent home for disrespecting proctors, the ACU said.
At the second round, an independent observer in Siem Reap was dismissed for taking out a smartphone, while another caused trouble in the capital by allegedly bringing unauthorised “bodyguards” along.
“If we don’t clearly know [their] background, I think they should not be trusted to help ensure the exams are corruption-free,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association.
The lax recruitment methods also resulted in a bungled list of volunteers: The ACU dropped the names of more than 30 registered observers just two days before the test’s second round, according to social accountability group ANSA-EAP.
“The ACU’s selection process for the independent observers was unclear and not transparent,” said San Chey, country coordinator for ANSA-EAP. “We weren’t given a satisfactory explanation for why the names were dropped since there had been no issues with our observers in the first round. All [the ACU] told us was that there had been ‘a technical issue’ and the names were lost.”
The Ministry of Education yesterday said it had outsourced the observer project to the Interior Ministry’s unit.
“We were not involved in the process,” said spokesman Ros Salin, who added that he did not necessarily think a lack of background checks for exam observers was problematic.