Doing away with question leaks

Md Rizwanul Islam | Published: December 02, 2017 00:30:18


There has been so much said and written about the very deplorable series of question leaks at different public examinations as well as admission tests and job entrance examinations. It seems that leaking of questions is an unstoppable phenomenon like natural disasters. Even the education minister has recently in a sort of resigned tone blamed the teachers for the question leak. Blaming the teachers for almost everything going wrong with the education system is no new phenomenon and it is sad that to some extent, the minister's accusation is true. Having said that, nobody in Bangladesh would believe the teachers in this country are so powerful that they are untouchables and the minister would have to resign to them so easily.

In any case, blaming the teachers would not solve the problem and the minister has to devise a way to stamp out the practice. Other factors contributing to this alarming situation such as the lucrative business of coaching centres, dishonesty of administrators entrusted with the responsibility of administering public examinations and employees of printing presses are also well-known but have not been sufficiently addressed.

Some of the problems can be addressed, provided the administration is serious. For example, teachers connected with coaching business can be easily identified and dealt with. This, of course, doesn't mean that teachers involved with coaching centres are all dishonest and are in a nexus with the question leakers. However, the ill-effects of coaching centres are not at all difficult to discern. But   removing teachers from unauthorised coaching will call for a substantial raise in their salary and other emoluments, which is unlikely to happen.

With the gap between a public examination and the admission test being reduced, the business model of admission test-centric coaching model can be made less lucrative, and if their business is less profitable, it may be hoped that their power to use money for engaging in unethical practices in question setting and circulation may also be reduced. Indeed, to some extent, this is already happening. The omnipresence of university and medical college admission test coaching business has somewhat reduced with a reduced gap between HSC examinations and the admission tests. Another suggestion made by Professor Zafar Iqbal and some others that questions be printed just in a short time before the examination.

However, in the opinion of this writer, a fundamental problem with question leaks has hardly been talked about seriously, let alone addressed. In many of the world's renowned universities, examination questions are 'leaked' and 'leaked in broad day light' with impunity. In fact, many of the professors of these universities take take-home examinations. In these take-home examinations, students are given a fixed-time typically ranging from a few hours to a few days to answer the questions. It does not only take the issue of the question leak out of the way, but it also takes away the subjectivity of the assessors in the assessment process (e.g. awarding good marks for something as meaningless as nice handwriting). Some of the examinations are also open book examinations which again substantially reduces the scope for question leakers to get any advantage (unless of course, the time gap between the question leak and the examination date is so long that leakers would have ample time to prepare the answers to the questions). If this trend can be followed, the practice of question leaks can be deterred. This kind of a trend of setting questions would also help address another malaise of our education system. It would effectively reduce, if not eliminate, the practice of pointless memorising. This is not to say that questions of this type discussed here would be possible for all types of examinations. Indeed, this type of questions for admission tests would be very challenging because the idea of admission tests or preliminary test of BCS examinations is mainly to cull the number of applicants and administer the assessment of a very high number of candidates in a very short time and through an objective assessment process. However, even if this kind of questions may be challenging for some tests does not mean that this type of questions cannot or should not be introduced in some public examinations such as SSC or HSC.

In these dark days of question leaking festivals, let me say that there are innumerable students who are dismayed by the unethical practice of some that good grades may be obtained through outright corrupt practices. It is high time that all concerned should put their heads together to bring an end to this malady.  

Dr. Md Rizwanul Islam is Associate Professor, Department of Law, North South University. Views and opinions expressed in the write-up are solely of the writer. rizwanuli@alumni.nus.edu.sg

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