It is good to know that the education ministry, as well as the Dhaka Education Board, has decided to investigate the widespread allegations about the leaking of English second paper questions for the ongoing Higher Secondary Examinations (HSC) under the Dhaka Education Board. We would like to hope that these investigation committees, as before, will not end up being just probe for probe's sake without the public ever knowing their outcome or any action taken to hold the culprits involved to account. Moreover, we would like to be reassured by Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid's word that this time he would do whatever is needed to get to the root of the scam. So far so good. Even so, there still will be the skeptics, given the previous records of inaction. So, we should not blame the examinees, or their guardians, if they take the probes initiated by the education ministry and the Dhaka Education Board with a grain of salt. The reasons are obvious.
The contents of English first paper were also leaked in the same manner before April 8, the day that the exam was held. But the authorities did not take those reports seriously. Even before that, exams of Bangla first and second papers were equally tainted by similar reports of question leakage. Police even arrested a number of people involved in the unfair practice, from Brahmanbaria and Sherpur, and recovered copies of question papers along with answers for Bangla first paper (set "ka") from photocopiers in those districts. These glaring instances notwithstanding, the education ministry dismissed those as rumour.
The Dhaka Education Board was equally nonchalant during the SSC exams in February last year. During that time, copies of leaked mathematics question were not only sold in different districts, photographs of those questions were also published in the media. But for reasons best known to them, the authorities did not take serious note of the reports.
Again, when the attention of the Dhaka Board authority was drawn to the leaked mathematics and English second paper questions for Junior School Certificate (JSC) exams held in last November, it even argued that those were not leaked questions, but 'short suggestions,' provided by some very expert and experienced teachers on the subjects in question.
As it stands, in most of the cases of question leakage from primary to higher secondary level examinations, the education ministry as well as the Board seemed to have taken a 'couldn't care less' attitude, despite the fact that the culprits involved in copying and distribution of leaked questions were caught in the act by the police in different places. In some cases, the probes the ministry or the Board had conducted were not followed by punitive action against those found involved the scams. Surprisingly though, there are clear provisions of the law enacted in 1980, and its amended version of 1992, for prosecution and punishment of persons committing such crimes involving public examinations. But no serious efforts were taken to arrest and give exemplary punishment to those who are destroying the country's public examination system.
But why the board or the ministry had taken such a strange stance on the previous cases of question paper leakage in public exams is anybody's guess.
Serious doubts, therefore, naturally arise. Why is this inexplicable sloth or lethargy in the education administration to deal with the curse of question leakage with an iron fist? Clearly, there is a strong syndicate involved whose tentacles are spread throughout the entire system of examination, from the stage of selecting the question papers to printing and distribution of those to different examination centres. And with the advent of latest communication and recording technologies like mobile phone and internet, the traditional methods to keep the process secret and secure have become redundant. The examination authorities must take these vulnerabilities of the existing security regime into account before devising any failsafe strategy to stop the leakage.
The recent incidents of information leakage from every conceivable system of examination or test to judge the merits of students seeking higher studies or candidates willing to get a new a job or a promotion to a higher position in a service have broken all previous records. As a result, the examination system itself is teetering on the brink of collapse. And it has only destroyed the students' faith in the examination system.
Can we assume that the education ministry has finally realised that things are going beyond control? We hope it is such a sense of urgency that has propelled it to form a committee to investigate the English paper II leakage case. So, a word of caution. It cannot be hoped that the racket or syndicate behind the question paper leakage can be busted by arresting one or two petty criminals working at the fringe of the network. The authorities should be prepared to hit at the base of the evil syndicate. And the base, they must know, pervades the entire system.
The writer is Editor, Science & Life, The Daily Star.