Whether it's the PEC, JSC, SSC, or HSC exams, question leaks before public examinations have become rather commonplace over the past few years. There have been numerous leaks of university and medical entrance test question papers as well.
For instance, the medical question paper for the 2015-16 session was leaked followed by the leaking of University of Dhaka D unit questions next year.
According to one study, it all started in 1979, when the question papers were leaked during the matriculation exam. With the advent of modern communication technology, the rate of such incidents has only increased, particularly since 2014.
From 1979 to 2017, a total of 82 question papers of numerous jobs and public exams, including the BCS, have been leaked. The PSC even cancelled the 24th BCS preliminary test in 2003 due to concerns of question paper leaking. Similar allegations were thrown at the 33rd BCS written test claiming that question papers had been leaked and were being sold at the University of Dhaka premises for Tk5,00,000 per set.
In 2020, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police reported that between 2013 and 2018, at least 4,000 students were admitted to various medical and dental colleges after answering exam papers.
It's a lucrative business as well. According to Detective Branch Joint Commissioner Harun-or-Rashid, the criminal gang - responsible for leaking question papers in at least four public service recruitment exams - made over Tk60 crore by selling the papers to candidates.
When administration officials are confronted with the problem of question leaks, they frequently provide typical excuses like – "Strict punitive measures will be taken," "the government is on high alert," "Social media is likely to spread leaked questions," and so on. Such pronouncements are hardly followed up with prompt actions.
To be fair, the government did hold several meetings with educators and intellectuals to avoid question paper leaks. The government attempted to impose a temporary ban on internet access and social media during exams; nonetheless, none of these measures was effective.
Among other factors, some parents could also be held responsible for leaking the question papers. These parents push their children to succeed in examinations by hook or by crook instead of inspiring them to learn. Leaking questions of the PSC examination is the epitome of these practices, as the children are being corrupted by their parents at such a tender age.
According to the Public Examination (Crime) Act, 1980 and Amendment 1992, leaking, publishing, or distributing question papers is punishable by a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
But given the frequency of question papers being leaked, only a few culprits have been brought under this punishment. In each case, inquiry committees were formed. But in most of the cases, despite the allegations being substantiated, only a few were punished.
With punitive measures not being implemented properly, the criminals naturally feel encouraged to do the same thing repeatedly. So proper execution of laws must be ensured. Both the question paper leakers and the receivers should be punished equally.
In other cases, the authorities tend to abolish exams given that the questions have been leaked. However, it can never be a suitable solution and may sometimes have unintended consequences.
For instance, in the case of board exams, cancelling exams often deals a heavy blow on the mental health of tender-hearted children. Exams are difficult enough already; nobody should have to go through the same pressure twice, especially when they did nothing wrong.
There are logistical issues as well, especially in the case of public university admission tests or public sector recruitment tests. Candidates from all across the country often travel hundreds of kilometres to attend these exams.
A large number of them belong to the lowest income households of the country. By cancelling exams, the authorities make them go through all of these troubles twice without compensating in any manner.
While the progress in ICT has, to a great extent, enabled leaking question papers instantly to hundreds, if not thousands of people, experts believe the same technology can also be used to prevent the papers from being leaked.
They suggested that there should be a central server for examinations. Half an hour before the exam, the question has to be delivered from the central server to the tab or computer in the test centre. This recommendation has already shown success in medical admission tests.
Alternatively, it can be done by email. Students must enter the centre before half an hour of the exam. At this time, the question has to be printed on the printer and provided accordingly.
Such a policy is cost-effective as well. Currently, the cost of printing and sending the question papers to the test centres is much higher. Undoubtedly, using technology to send questions to the centre will reduce cost several times.
In today's developed world, there are various technological measures to protect the confidentiality of tests. It is possible to avert the leaking of question papers in this country by using these technologies. The real question is, are those responsible authorities concerned about seeking a solution?
Md Sohrab Hossen and Md Obaidullah are working as Research Assistants at the Centre for Advanced Social Research, Dhaka.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.