The government is split over a planned move by the Ministry of Education to combat question paper leaks by blocking access to Facebook during the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and equivalent examinations this year.
The announcement was made by Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid during a press briefing at the Secretariat in Dhaka Tuesday.
“Facebook will remain closed during the SSC exams,” Nahid said. “We will consult the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and the Information and Communication Technology Division in this regard.”
However, the move was denounced only a few hours later on Tuesday by the newly appointed Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister, Mustafa Jabbar.
“I do not agree with this decision,” he said. “We should combat the ill use of technology with the help of technology; shutting it down is not a solution.”
Mustafa Jabbar said he had not yet received any request in this regard.
“When I receive any such request, I will make my position on this decision clear,” he said.
The telecoms minister said the last time Facebook had been shut down in the country – in November 2015, for security reasons – the prime minister's ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy had taken the initiative to unblock the site.
“I do not see any reason to block Facebook again,” he said. “However, we will follow the prime minister and her ICT adviser's directive on this issue.”
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There is a precedent for popular social media and messaging platforms being shut down in other countries to prevent cheating and question leaks during exams.
Ethiopia blocked Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Viber in July 2016 for several days during the university entrance exams, reported the BBC.
The Ethiopian government said the ban was to “prevent students from getting distracted from studying” and to “prevent the spread of false rumours”.
A year later, in May 2017, the same country shut down the internet during the Grade 10 national exams to prevent exam leaks, reported Quartz.
Nurul Islam Nahid on Tuesday said the Bangladesh government had taken other steps to prevent leaks and cheating.
These include requiring SSC students to be seated in the exam hall half an hour before an exam is scheduled to begin.
“If any candidate fails to do that, he or she will not be allowed to enter the exam hall,” the education minister said.
In order to prevent question leaks, sealed question paper packets will be opened 30 minutes before the tests begin.
Nahid said any invigilator who opens the packets even one minute before the designated time will be subject to legal action.
The minister said an inspection team would be appointed to monitor whether these instructions are being followed in the exam centres.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Education also decided to impose a ban on using mobile phones by students, teachers and other duty officials and staff of the exam centres during the SSC examinations, which are scheduled to begin on February 1.
Any teacher or student found to be in possession of a phone will be expelled immediately, the ministry said.
Sections of this article were first published on banglatribune.com