Vietnam exam fraud exposes systemic flaws, public livid

By Thuy Linh, Quynh Trang, Phan Anh    August 7, 2018 | 07:00 pm PT
Vietnam exam fraud exposes systemic flaws, public livid
Vietnamese students sit at the national high school exam in June 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Arguments for and against decentralization have broken out after the recent national high school exam fraud exposed systemic problems.

Some have blamed provincial administration of the national exam for the national high school exam fraud where marks were manipulated to give higher scores to students who’d not performed well.

Last week, two more education officials in the northern province of Hoa Binh were arrested and placed under criminal investigation for involvement in one of Vietnam’s biggest national exam frauds, where it was found that the results of over 372 tests taken by 114 candidates in the three provinces of Ha Giang, Son La and Hoa Binh were heavily altered.

Scores in individual subjects were inflated by as much as 90 percent and cumulative scores went up by more than 17 percent.

Hoa Binh was the latest province exposed in the national exam fraud case after Ha Giang and Son La provinces.

Students livid

Ever since the case came to light last month, students, parents and teachers nationwide have expressed their anger.

“There are 35 people in my class. Who’s good or who’s bad, we know it. And some of them don’t deserve such high scores,” said an unnamed student from Son La Province.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes upon reading about the Ha Giang case. Our scores were the results of all our efforts, and they determine our future and our careers. And yet, some students did nothing and still received top scores in the entire country,” said another unnamed student in Ha Giang Province.

Nearly 925,800 Vietnamese students attended the national high school exam, which plays as one of the biggest milestones of their life.

The exam is considered to be a make-or-break event for the students, determining if they can enter a good university or not. Most families in Vietnam view it as a crucial step that helps decide their children's future career life, and thus the high school years and the exam season in particular are usually a stressful family affair.

An unnamed parent in Ha Giang Province claimed: “My child was very angry upon hearing the students’ national examination results. Some of them were not that good, but got scores as high as 27 (out of 30), while the best students only got 24-25.”

Systemic flaws

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam and 26 education experts held a discussion last week on Vietnam’s problematic national high school graduation examination.

Some said that this year’s national graduation examination had too many flaws in its conception, organization and operation that facilitated the falsification of results.

Education minister Phung Xuan Nha said the software used to grade multiple-choice test sheets contained security flaws that could allow outsiders to falsify test results.

Experts also consider the 7-day time limit for physical CDs of students’ test answers to be sent to the education ministry too long, also allowing for manipulation of test answers.

Other issues raised during the discussion included how the test answers were processed in text form instead of images; and how the official answers were released before the actual grading took place, allowing outsiders to overwrite the students’ answers.

But most of the blame was placed on the fact that it was the provincial authority that administered the exam and not the education ministry.

While organizing the examination in local provinces might cost less and make it more accessible for students, it is also more difficult to monitor and manage, thus making it less secure, experts said.

In 2012, a graduation exam fraud case in the northern province of Bac Giang had exam invigilators actively helping students to cheat by giving them study materials right during the examination.

Some people suggested that the high school graduation exam is scrapped and students planning to study higher take their university entrance exam. But opponents said the high school final exam is still necessary to determine the quality of the three-year education.

Others advocated that the education ministry and universities themselves administer the national exam, not provincial authorities. This would make the process more secure and fraud less likely, they said.

“Our universities should be in charge of administering the national examination themselves,” said an unnamed head of a major university in Hanoi.

However, education minister Nha rejected this contention, saying previous governmental meetings had already considered allowing universities to organize their own entrance exams, but many are unable to do it, due to a lack of funds and human resources.

Moreover, doing so would incentivize a new surge in cramming classes, something the Vietnamese government has been trying to curb for many years.

So what should be done?

One solution is to record students’ test sheets right after they have been collected by invigilators after an exam, and save them digitally afterwards, suggested education deputy minister Bui Van Ga.

“Once a saved file has been created on the spot, it would be impossible to interfere with the test answers,” he said.

The national exam requires candidates to undertake mandatory exams in Math, Literature and Foreign Language, while making a choice between natural sciences (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) and social sciences (History, Geography and Ethics).

This year, the examination lasted for three days, from June 25 to June 27.

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