The introduction of a new university admission system in Thailand has gone disastrously wrong, leaving hundreds of thousands of students in limbo and forcing many universities to delay the start of the new semester.
This year marked the introduction of the O-Net (Ordinary National Educational Test) and A-Net (Advanced National Educational Test) scores. More than 300,000 12th graders sat the tests, the results of which were to be used as admissions criteria for higher education institutions. The tests are overseen by the National Institute of Educational Testing Service (NIETS).
The results of the tests were posted on April 1, but NIETS voided the scores nationwide the next day after hundreds of students complained that they had been given scores of zero - virtually impossible, according to experts, even if a student had performed badly.
The chief of the executive board of NIETS, Khunying Sumontha Promboon, resigned this week to assume responsibility for the fiasco, amid promises to announce the proper test results on April 30. But that date may now be in doubt, with NIETS insiders saying they are having trouble identifying the owners of some of the 4 million answer sheets.
Higher Education Commission secretary general Pavich Tongroach, who has appointed an independent panel to oversee the rechecking of test results, said the process was a 'major headache'.
'Now we've ordered a hunt for the answer sheet owners by searching the house registration database and using some clues from the exam papers in telephoning schools. It's a very tough task.'
Caretaker Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang said he had inspected the commission's rechecking system, and he was confident the new results would be accurate. He refused to resign to take responsibility for the mistakes.
The failure of the new system has incensed students. One Bangkok high school graduate said: 'How could they get something as important as this so wrong? I was supposed to be starting university in the first week of June. I have no idea what's happening, or even if the new results will be accurate.'
The O-Net (a test of general subjects) and A-Net (a test of special skills demanded by some faculties) tests were used for the first time this year in an effort to make university entrance procedures - often clouded by accusations of favouritism and corruption - fairer and more equitable.
Dr Khunying Sumontha said: 'We know there were two main reasons for the mistakes: the software system used to check the answer sheets and human error. Also, students who got the zero marks did not enter their identification numbers properly.'
She said NIETS acting director Prateep Chankong would not offer his candidacy for the agency's directorship, as he also wanted to show responsibility for the mess.
Nine medical institutes have postponed student recruitment. Leading Bangkok institute Thammasat University has announced plans to postpone the start of the semester for about a week because of the problem.