Government officials concede there are many ways test questions can leak on their way from the press to secondary and higher secondary exam halls. Officials also acknowledge glaring loopholes exist in the system.
Now experts suggest use of technology as an alternative method to prevent the leaks.
Question leaks had been blighting public examinations for several years in the past but the scandal quieted down during the tests on curtailed syllabi amid the pandemic.
The Ministry of Education had even dismissed any chances of leaks but the ongoing SSC exams apparently proved the policymakers wrong.
Dinajpur education board suspended four exams and discarded questions on six subjects while complaints have been made of question leaks on several other subjects.
WHERE IS THE RISK?
The Bangladesh Government Press prints the questions for secondary and higher secondary. From there they go to the deputy commissioners who send the questions to Upazilas.
Exam centre secretaries, along with a government official and police, check whether the question papers are in order before locking them up at Upazila treasuries or police stations. They then bring questions of specific subjects on scheduled exam mornings to the exam centres.
The questions reaching the Upazilas days ahead of the exams can be subject to risk due to negligence, the experts said.
The instance at Kurigram’s Bhurungamari lends credence to this claim as authorities look into the incident with six people arrested so far.
Prof Kamrul Islam, chairman of the Dinajpur education board, stressed the transportation of questions and sorting tasks are assigned with “trust”.
“What to do if people go against their words? We must be more careful in future.”
Tapan Kumar Sarkar, chief of the coordination sub-committee of the central education board, conceded that loyalty cannot guarantee the confidentiality of the questions.
He thinks orthodox methods can never neutralise the risks of leaks.
“We have no other way but to trust centre secretaries, they are headmasters. This has been the way until now. He is accompanied by two other officials. Perhaps they [the two officials] were negligent which allowed the centre secretary to leak the question paper.”
The SSC exams were held across 3,790 centres this year.
Ali Akbar Khan, chairman of the Technical Education Board, thinks the centres for other exams are also susceptible to such risks. “How are exam secretaries able to do this in the presence of education officials and law enforcers? If that is the case, question leaks can easily occur.”
BUET Prof Md Kaykobad, chief of the government’s question leaks prevention committee in 2018, questioned how it was possible to keep faith in the current method to supply questions where so many people are involved.
“The education minister said there are no chances of leaks, but it happened anyway. So now we don’t have any faith as she speaks without knowing.”
He pointed out that the government had been advised time and again to steer clear of expensive methods requiring a lot of people. “Everyone has smartphones nowadays. We can’t even ensure whether anybody’s carrying them inside the exam halls.”
“We can be entirely sure when we say questions were not leaked for many days. The chances are we just don’t know it happened.”
Kaykobad said the government wants to build a digitally-driven country but its actions do not reflect that. Otherwise, authorities would supply questions safely through the internet for computers to print, which also cuts expenses.
He said it was suggested multiple times to policymakers. “They will begin printing question papers an hour before the tests. We will keep as many printers as we need for that.”
He said those involved in “formulating, printing and supplying” the question papers know the process. “All we need is a little bit of brainstorming. It can’t be done if we don’t have the goodwill.”
Prof SM Hafizur Rahman of Dhaka University’s Institute of Education and Research also thinks the people tasked with delivering the questions safely are leaking the questions.
“We need to rely more on technology. Everything until the questions reach the exam centres has to be done with the help of technology. There will be no leaks if the questions are mailed to the centres an hour before the exams for printing.”
TECHNOLOGY IN TECHNICAL INSTITUTIONS
As many as 2 million students sat for higher secondary exams this year. About 400,000 students took exams on engineering diplomas over the last four semesters held every six months under the Technical Education Board.
These exams are being held digitally since the emergence of COVID. The questions are sent to the centres online 30 minutes before the exams. The centre authorities then print and distribute them among the students in due time.
Board chairman Akbar said these students had also faced questions leaking in the past. The current method was adopted to prevent that and is “bringing success”.
“No one is now able to say that questions are being leaked,” he said hoping the same process will put an end to the crisis for public exams as well. “Having the questions beforehand and getting them 30 minutes ahead of the exams are quite different. The students get into the halls by that time.”
“The questions go to the principals, only they can print them out and no one else can access them.”
EDUCATION BOARD CONSIDERING CHANGES
Inter-education board sub-committee Chairman Tapan the incident at Dinajpur has stirred them into looking for alternatives.
“The manual system will cease to exist. We’re thinking along those lines.”
But he pointed out several barriers to adopting the digital approach. “There are many centres in hilly and isolated regions struggling with networking issues. So we’re not yet able to take the technological route. It may happen when the internet connectivity is more reliable there.”
Curriculum expert SM Hafizur Rahman thinks public exams can take the cue from the Technical Education Board.
“We can think about it as one of the boards is already using the method. Only the centres’ chiefs are receiving the questions, no one else. He can see it using an OTP. Fewer people will be involved in the whole thing.”
Secondary and Higher Education Secretary Abu Bakr Siddique also believes better systems of question supply exist in other countries.
“We will check those systems. A system doesn’t continue forever. We need to think of alternatives. Because the incident has shown us that we can’t just trust people.”
He said Education Minister Dipu Moni was abroad and the government will look into alternatives to the current system once she returns.