The news on the arrest of six students of different polytechnic institutes on Sunday last allegedly for their involvement in question paper leak is ambivalent. Its contention is that they used the messaging site Whatsapp to circulate fake question paper sets and accepted money ranging between Tk 500 and Tk3,000 for each set from Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinees. Now if the question paper is fake, how can the exercise be called leaking? Leak of question paper means, the original question paper is somehow smuggled out or copied for circulation either in exchange for money or other benefits.
Presumably, the leak concerns getting the Mathematics question paper out before its exam was held on schedule. Some reports are categorical that this question paper did leak and the set some students procured before the holding of its exam corresponds cent per cent to the question paper on which the Math examination was held. On the other hand, the question paper the arrested six distributed in exchange for money had about 30 per cent common questions with the original one.
No doubt, even if a student can get hold of question papers containing 30 per cent genuine questions prior to appearing at an examination at this level, there is a clear advantage on his/her part. The education minister has been compelled to come out with a statement following the incident. The minister states that the Mathematics examination will be cancelled if the leak of question paper is proved beyond doubt.
Rumours about leak of question papers were not rife this time as it had been in the past until the holding of the Math examination. A cabinet colleague of the education minister earlier warned of dire consequences if the rumour mill spread unsubstantial news on question paper leak. Now that the allegation of leak of Mathematics question paper has been made, a lingering doubt will cast its shadow on examination on other papers already held or to be held.
Cancellation of an examination, if and when necessary, is a confirmation that the leak of question paper could not be plugged. The arrested students of polytechnic institutes are not supposed to be connected with the main process of setting questions, printing of those and handling of the soft or hard copies at some points. They are certainly not the cog of the wheel. Unless some insiders are involved in breaching the confidentiality at some point beginning with preparation to distribution of question papers, it was impossible for question papers reaching out to outsiders.
Examinees are definitely the main stakeholders in an expansive system of a public examination like the SSC. They may be the ultimate beneficiaries if they can unethically manage a set of question paper a few hours before the examination. Some are likely to do all they can to get hold of leaked question papers. But there are others who will never think of procuring leaked question papers even if those were offered for free. They prepare themselves for such an examination with utmost dedication and hate to be involved in any such dishonest practice. The source of their confidence is their merit and hard work.
The number of such students in this country is still substantial and undermining their resolve to shine in exams no matter even if the questions are hard would be a gross injustice. Now cancellation of an examination and holding it again involve setting into motion an unnecessary process and at a cost. Students against copying or dishonest practices will find re-examination an insult to them and silently curse the authorities subjecting them to this unnecessary ordeal. They will grow up with the idea that the people in charge cannot even ensure a fair and smooth holding of a public examination.
They will only think more so because of the authorities' bragging over the issue of question paper leaks. Incredulous claims were made to the effect that final set of question paper would be chosen from as many as 25-30 such sets, so that the teachers who submit their own sets would not even know which one has got the approval. Another proposal mooted then was the selection of three or four sets of question papers for a subject and no one will be in the know which set goes where at the last minutes. The authorities claimed such measures will stop question leak once for all.
That it has not is clear from the latest incident involving the Math question papers. In the admission test of the University of Dhaka also question paper got leaked. An aggrieved guardian of a candidate even a filed case, seeking a fresh admission test. The DU authorities, however, managed to catch hold of the culprits and avoided the readmission test with limited damage.
Involved in question paper leak is a nefarious network of greedy teachers, government employees, coaching centres, guidebook traders and others who find the syndicated service extremely profitable. In a country where question papers of examinations held under the Public Service Commission are allegedly leaked, the reach of the network can be imagined. Without an overhaul of education and the system of public examinations, the racket cannot be contained. A powerful syndicate with enormous amount of money at their disposal somehow gets unlawful access to the confidential materials of examinations. The need is to detect the key players who have been making a mockery of confidentiality again and again.