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Why don’t we try open-book exams?

  • Published at 07:26 pm February 13th, 2018
  • Last updated at 12:01 am February 14th, 2018
Why don’t we try open-book exams?
In 2014, when I was still an education reporter for the Dhaka Tribune, I worked on a report unveiling how the leaked question paper posted on various Facebook groups really did match the original HSC question papers. The paper was made available on these Facebook groups the night before the exam. In the report, we posted the names of the Facebook groups and IDs with screenshots that were used to leak the questions. However, the following day, the education minister denied that the question papers were ever leaked.  To our shock (and dismay), two or three weeks later, the same Facebook groups and IDs leaked another set of HSC question papers. That was four years ago, yet the situation remains the same, and in some cases, has gotten a lot worse. On February 10, newspapers reported that both the answer scripts and question paper for the SSC mathematics examinations were made popping up in certain Facebook groups. This is, of course, a new development. The miscreants have become kind enough to spare the students the time and trouble looking for answers to the leaked question papers. A new low of our education administration, indeed. On a continuous loop The response from those responsible for ensuring and maintaining efficiency within the education sector is far from adequate. We should not be tolerating a government body continuously failing to prevent question papers leaks, despite knowing full well where the source lies. There is every reason to question the sincerity of the administration’s statements regarding this issue. Compounded by the rumors that some very influential people are behind this entire fiasco, and that a very large amount of money is changing hands over this. The fact that certain question papers have been getting leaked for several years, without any effective measures being taken by the government, behooves us to take these rumours with some degree of seriousness. After so many years, and personally having witnessed how reluctant our policy-makers are in resolving this crisis, I cannot give them the benefit of the doubt any longer.
While it is purely speculation at this point, it is not unrealistic to picture how the question leaks can create a serious skill gap in various professional sectors in the future
Dire consequences It might seem a trifle problem in the here and now, but question paper leaks are bad news for us in the long term. To begin with, they foster immense mental pressure on our children. It gives way to frustration, and further perpetuates the already cancerous culture of cheating that plagues our society. Why work hard when a little dishonesty can already bring them on an even keel with their peers? We are staring at a generation of defeatists if this problem is let to exist for much longer. Secondly, we cannot discount the fact that many unqualified students, who will no doubt make use of these leaks, are on-track to being recruited into jobs they don’t deserve purely based on their “grades.” While it is purely speculation at this point, it is not unrealistic to picture how the question leaks can create a serious skill gap in various professional sectors in the future, including important government bodies. What is the value of a certificate if it was ill-gotten? What is behind this epidemic? In public buses, I often overhear discussions among passengers. In one such discussion last week, one comment in particular piqued my interest. One of them speculated how our policy-makers are more than aware of the severity of the question paper leaks, also about how difficult it is to get a job without lobbying or through the influence of political parties, even if you posses the necessary degrees and grades. They also know that all these examinations and certificates do not matter in the grander scheme. “That’s why their concentration is not on examination. This is an indirect message to the youth that there is no point in studying in this country,” he said. Sounds harsh, I know, but it speaks well of how dissatisfied the people are over how these leaks have been handled by our administration so far. Just the other day, I found an interesting proposal. A passenger said that as the government has been failing to investigate the question paper leaks thoroughly, and that we should seriously consider an open-book examination system instead of the existing system. I found this idea very refreshing and wise. It seems to be the only solution for us at this juncture. This way, we can create a level playing field for all students -- a level playing field that does not require them to be dishonest to themselves. Mushfique Wadud is a freelance journalist.        
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