Graduating Class of 2016

Written by Lizzy McCormack

In August, grade 12 students from all over Cambodia sat national exams in Khmer, Maths, Biology, History, Chemistry, Physics and English. Ten Free To Shine girls joined them, sitting the seven exams over three consecutive days. We are thrilled to announce that nine passed, and the other has been accepted into a vocational training program run by respected local NGO, EGBOK.This is even more incredible when you consider that only 56% of Cambodian students passed their grade 12 exams in 2016. Girls outperformed the boys in all but four out of twenty-five provinces, and 60% of girls who took the exam passed, whereas in comparison only 44% of boys taking the exam were successful. If you think these scores seem low, this is a massive improvement on 2015 where only 26% of students passed the national exams following the introduction of sweeping anti-cheating laws. For comparison’s sake, before the anti-cheating laws came in the average pass rate was 87%. But we digress.Many of Free To Shine’s girls who recently completed the grade 12 exam were already several years behind in school when we met them, which makes their accomplishment even more astounding. It also demonstrates the necessity for the support and motivation that our Education Officers and Social Workers provide, as well as the funds for extra classes and school materials.

It is difficult for girls in Cambodia to finish grade 12, especially when they are more than two years behind in school. Even with the support of their family and Free To Shine, these girls often feel embarrassed to be so much older than their classmates, and many feel that they should be earning money to support their families. However, this was not the case for Nimol*. When we met Nimol, she was 20 years old and about to graduate grade 10. Although she was one of the oldest girls in her class, she was determined to finish high school, refusing to stop studying even when her mother repeatedly asked her to get a job. Nimol’s bicycle had recently broken, so she was walking the 8km to school every day since her mother could not afford to get it repaired. Nimol’s mother was working as a chicken farmer and often travelled to other districts in the search of work. However, she was not earning enough money to support Nimol and her two younger brothers go to school. Nimol told us in our first meeting that she longed to become a teacher, “I want to become a teacher and earn lots of money to support my family”.Once enrolled on our program, Nimol began to thrive, and her mother became very supportive of her education, at times selling some of her chickens for Nimol to pay for more additional classes. Last year, Nimol took her grade 12 exam but unfortunately she did not pass. She was devastated and wasn’t sure if she wanted to try again or enroll in vocational training. After encouragement from her Education Officer and a lot of soul searching, Nimol decided she would repeat grade 12 to get her certificate. She moved in with her grandfather to be closer to the local high school and picked up a part-time job doing data collection for World Vision so that she could pay for her room and board. We are so proud to announce that this year, at 23 years old, Nimol passed her exams with flying colours. Next year she plans to attend university, studying either teaching or accounting.

*Name has been changed.