In Cambodia, to receive your high school diploma you must pass a comprehensive national exam at the end of Grade 12. Students may choose between two exam types: science track and social science track, but Khmer and Math feature prominently in both exams. This high-stakes exam was traditionally marred by widespread, normalized cheating which the Ministry undertook to reform in 2014. In that year, the pass rate dropped from around 80% in 2013 to less than 26% in 2014. Since then, schools across the country have made progress, increasing the pass rate year-by-year, and in 2019, almost 69% of the country’s Grade 12 students passed.
PLF’s students have always exceeded the national average which is largely attributed to the Grade 12 scholarships for which our students can apply. These scholarships are important because, while public high school tuition is free, the majority of teachers offer extra tuition classes which can contain up to 70% of the exam material and worked examples to help students study. Our Grade 12 scholarships allow our students who could not otherwise afford to enrol in these extra tuition classes the opportunity to do so. With these extra classes, our students are able to significantly improve their semester scores and create a stronger foundation to prepare for the national exam.
“We want to encourage students to follow their goals and not shy away from the science track if they are interested in the STEM fields, so we will be shifting the priority of our Grade 12 scholarships toward students in the science track. “
In 2016, a couple years after beginning to provide high school scholarships, we went through our first rethinking and adjusting, where we shifted from providing extra class scholarships for Grades 10 – 12 to focus only on the critical year of Grade 12. Now, in 2019, we’re rethinking once again.
In looking at the breakdown by science track vs social track over the past 3 years, it’s clear that Grade 12 scholarships make a bigger impact for our students’ passing the science track of the national exam. In 2019, having a Grade 12 scholarship to study extra classes in the social track meant you were 1.45% more likely to pass the national exam than our students without the scholarship. For the science track, though, the difference was 16.34%. These results are corroborated by national trends of fewer students choosing the science track because of the well-known difficulty of that exam. We want to encourage students to follow their goals and not shy away from the science track if they are interested in the STEM fields, so we will be shifting the priority of our Grade 12 scholarships toward students in the science track.
We also see another important trend: the scholarships are decreasingly needed. The Grade 12 scholarships do still make a difference, particularly in the science track, but the difference in pass rates between PLF scholarship students and PLF students who did not receive the scholarship has decreased between 2017 and 2019. This is an extremely encouraging trend. It can mean many things: the quality of education in public schools has increased, teacher reform means more exam content is included in the public class instead of only in the extra tuition class, our soft skill programming which encourages critical and creative thinking is taking hold in all students. We will continue monitoring these trends to adjust our programs as needed to make the biggest impact for the most students.