Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Politicising exam papers

The systematic leaking of examination questions suggest a conspiracy to undermine the state, writes Ahmed Hafez

Politicising exam papers
Politicising exam papers
Al-Ahram Weekly

Over the last four years leaks of the general secondary certificate exams have stopped being an educational glitch and turned into a political crisis. 

Money alone cannot explain the leaks which now seem less about maverick officials printing and distributing exam questions in exchange for cash and more like a concerted campaign to discredit not just the Ministry of Education but all state institutions engaged in upholding regulations.

Those leaking exam questions on electronic media are dictating conditions to the government that are impossible to meet. They have demanded the current curriculum be scrapped in its entirety and all education officials dismissed. 

The crisis is no longer confined to the Education Ministry but has dragged in the state’s security, regulatory, and legislative apparatuses. This became clear the evening of the latest leaks when the ministry became a beehive of activity for personnel from political, regulatory and administrative agencies as well as Homeland Security. 

The leaking of secondary certificate exam questions is a catastrophe that has only happened once before, in 2008, in the governorate of Minya in Upper Egypt. Then the goal was profiteering. An official at the exam distribution centre in the governorate sold the questions. He and three others were subsequently prosecuted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Monetary gain, though, no longer explains the leaks. The primary goal seems to be to foment crises and demonstrate the state’s failure to secure examination papers and apprehend those involved in electronic leaks. Those behind the leaks may also be hoping students not involved in cheating will take to the streets in protest, thus adding to the challenges facing the regime. 

The conspiracy within the Ministry of Education, one which targets the entire regime, will not be cowed by threats to imprison and fine those who publish and circulate test questions. 

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued an order setting a prison term of up to three years and a fine of LE100,000 for any person who publishes or in any other way disseminates the questions and answers of the secondary certificate exam. Yet a copy of the exam from inside one exam committee was published on electronic media and, a few minutes later, model answers to the questions were posted on the same pages. 

Students were also able to interact with page administrators, commenting on the questions and answers, a fact that suggests 3G and 4G telephones were being used inside exam committees. Some committee heads clearly not only allowed the entry of mobile phones by failing to search students but allowed them to use the phones.

The ministry has taken strict precautionary measures. It issued a decree cancelling the exams of any student found in possession of a mobile phone even if it is not being used to cheat. Anyone shown to have used a mobile phone or other technology to cheat is also referred to Public Prosecution. 

Sources in the Ministry of Education told Al-Ahram Weekly that the founder of the largest cheating website lives outside Egypt. The person who leaked the religion exam two hours before students were due to sit the paper currently resides in Germany where he is completing a masters’ degree. The ministry, add the sources, can only pursue the administrators of websites in Egypt. 

The same sources add the security apparatus cannot easily shut down the websites which are heavily firewalled against blocking or jamming. Proposals to close Facebook and Twitter for the duration of secondary certificate exams, from 9am to noon, are also impractical since the government would have to pay huge sums to the owners of the websites. 

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the secure press responsible for printing exam papers and model answers has been infiltrated, suggesting other exams will be leaked. Sources at the Education Ministry who spoke to the Weekly say anything is now possible. 

The Weekly contacted the founder of the biggest leak page, now resident in Germany, by using a chat programme.

“I won’t stop the leaks until the education system is reformed,” he said. “Currently it’s a failure and only serves the children of the elite.”

Though he claimed to be leaking exams to demonstrate the failure of the system he added that some leak sites receive large sums of money in return for test questions and answers. These, he says, are operated with the complicity of officials in the Ministry of Education. 

The problem, then, has several dimensions, and must be approached in a multifaceted way. There is the invigilator who allows students to use mobile phones inside the exam room. There is the infiltration of the printing press of examination papers. There are those who buy the examination papers and then sell them on for a profit. And then a bigger conspiracy, suggesting the Ministry of Education is a hotbed of activists from an organisation seeking to undermine the state. 

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