by Chi Lan
Minister of Education and Training Phùng Xuân Nhạ appeared in public for the first time on Tuesday – two weeks after the shocking cheating scandal in the national high school graduation exam was exposed.
While the minister offered less than an apology which millions of hard-working students, their anxious parents and society as a whole deserved, he was quick to point out the reason behind such a humiliating scandal.
“If people don’t have a pure mind and act irresponsibly, regardless of how sophisticated our procedures are, wrongdoings will happen, especially by those with bad intentions,” he told the press.
In short, it was the corrupt officials who were at fault, not the ministry or the “sophisticated” examination procedures it developed.
I don’t deny that he is partially right. It is the people who had the idea of letting everyone take part in an examination to cherry pick the best ones, and they thought of many ways to prevent cheating. But it was also the people who looked for any loopholes to take advantage of, regardless of being exam organisers or students. Some make the rules and naturally some will try to break them.
Two education officials in Hà Giang Province have been arrested so far and another five are accused of involvement in the cheating in Sơn La Province – one of whom is the deputy director of the municipal education department. However, the minister told us that this was simply a story of a few individuals trying to break the rules.
It was in fact a crime with links between wealthy parents who wished to send their underperforming children to top universities, exam supervisors who did the real dirty work and powerful officials who could change a student’s future with a few words.
And where were all those exam inspectors sent from the ministry who were supposed to supervise the most important test of a student’s life in order to ensure that everything was done correctly?
The procedures were nothing near perfect, like Nhạ said, but this level of corruption in the system and the complete failure of the inspectors, or the cross-check mechanism, proved that such procedures could not fall far from the bottom either.
This year was not the first time the high school exit/university entrance test – a two-in-one exam – was held in each locality instead of at the university of the student’s choice.
A surprising increase in the tests’ difficulty level did an excellent job of picking out outstanding students. It also meant that those with weak records stood out after scoring highly, angering fellow honest students and prompting public doubt on the quality of the two-in-one examination.
Rumours have long persisted that locally organised examinations were full of corruption, and it was somehow proved true this year, in a very bitter and shocking manner in which hundreds of students could easily buy higher scores from local officials.
It happened this year, and there was no guarantee that it had not happened for the last three years.
I am a supporter of the two-in-one exam. During my younger years, parents and their children had to leave their homes for big cities like Hà Nội and HCM City where most of the universities were based. The journey to the university gate for thousands of anxious people, many of whom were setting foot in a big city for the first time, was so stressful. The trip left many physically, emotionally and sometimes financially drained.
The new kind of exam lifted such a burden from the students and their families. That all localities have decent infrastructure to host a national-level exam was one necessary condition for the two-in-one test. But the other, in which localities must ensure the security, secrecy and general quality of the exam, was somehow missing.
If students have to travel far to take a fair test or they can stay close to home but might risk losing their opportunity to someone less deserving, what will they choose? The answer now seems to depend on how rich and well-connected their parents are, I think.
It is obvious that some have called for returning to the good old days where the exam was held in universities. Others wanted to discard the high school exit exam and let the universities recruit students themselves. There were various suggestions and after this scandal, the education ministry and our minister Nhạ would have a hard time working out the best solution, whether to keep the current model and tighten the exam procedures or to bring about more reforms.
I will leave the work to educational experts to decide, but two things must be guaranteed in the exam next year: no hassle for students and their parents to acquire a high school diploma and/or university entry, and two: everything must be fair and square. That is the least we can do for future generations and for the sake of our own country. — VNS