Life Never Comes With a Manual

Examination hall, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. They laugh when I say "examination hall". For them, it is just the same class room where we have had our classes all throughout the semester. "Examination hall", a term probably coined somewhere in the Indian Sub-continent, a term well-endowed with fear, threat and, oh yes, the furtive attempts at cheating. A "hall" where many a human still wishes his eyeballs could rotate 180 degrees in their sockets with the head remaining stationary like the sun. It is a "hall" where there are the sub-continental creations called the "invigilators"—the academic law enforcement officials. They come in platoons, for it is too hazardous and inefficient to patrol the "hall" alone. I think there can be a movie, The Invigilator, starring a bespectacled Arnold Swarzenegger in a panjabi with battle camouflage. At some point, the bulging biceps somehow appear peeking through the fatigue from being conveniently ripped up during action—the action being a tussle between him and a screaming and yelling examinee (another sub-continental term) while being thrown out of the "hall" after being intercepted with tiny pieces of paper appearing out of his pockets…

Back to Ann Arbor. The professor hands out the question papers and says:

"I'll be outside in the hallway if I'm needed. And don't forget to sign the honour code."

That is a small bombshell for me, the uninitiated.

So, who will "invigilate" us? Doesn't he know that when the cat is out, the mouse will play?

But these are conscientious mice since there is the powerful honour code where every examinee writes, not in pen, but in pencil on top of the answer sheet:

"I have neither taken part in, nor witnessed anyone taking part in any unfair means during the test."

We then sign our names—in pencil…

But are we not cheating? Yes, we are, but in a kosher way, prescribed by the professor himself. We all have an A4 sized paper with tiny inscriptions scribbled on them. The professor has allowed us to bring a "cheat sheet" to the test where we have been allowed to scribble anything and everything we want. He is not testing our memory, he is testing our problem solving skills using all that was taught in class. The "cheat sheet" contains all the formulas in the planet, for the formulas have been derived to solve problems, to be drawn on when needed, not to be regurgitated when asked to do so.

There is no furious scribbling in the room, but pin drop silence broken only by the sound of scratching heads, as smart minds try to solve smart problems. Furtive glances or careless whispers will go nowhere. If there is the expectation of a question being "common" (another term probably coined in the sub-continent), forget it. After all, life never comes with a manual or with an answer. When the database system crashes and the customers are yelling, there is no benevolent Facebook group admin or a corrupt official who will warn us 24 hours beforehand so that we address the crisis before it occurs. Nevertheless, that is apparently the expectation of many an "examinee" in our country, spending more time to innovate on cheating rather than innovate.

And so, there is the constant effort to innovate to counter the unscrupulous innovations. Unfortunately, all attempts have failed as the sinister ones are always a step ahead.

It is a cancer. There is no cure, but at best, there is the attempt to containment—chemo, aka, internet shut/slowdown. There is also a "test" the evening before the SSC exams—a half hour internet shut down. Just like before the SSC exams, this is the Test exam.

Digital chemo starts, and so do the major side effects.

On the first day of "battle", Uber is the winner, ok, in the first half hour of the 2.5 hour outage. Once I arrive at my destination (trip booked BEFORE 8:00 am), the driver's mobile is unable to display the calculated fare. I err on the safer side and pay him most certainly a lot more than the usual fare. He wins. But for the next two hours, he is the loser, for he has dropped off the internet radar. And this is one of many, many collateral damages that is noticed, while it is also noticed that the determined unscrupulous remain unscathed and unabated. The blackout is lifted.

Ok, so now a bunch of kids get golden GPA 5.0s not knowing how they got it. That's fine, good for the job market—it will now be easier to hire. Ask two questions on real world problems during a job interview, and the potential employer will be able to decide, within one minute, whether to issue: "Off with the head!" Hiring never got easier.

And cheaters? You decide what you want to do in the long run. Remember, life comes with no leaked questions…

Naveed Mahbub is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA and CEO of IBM & Nokia Siemens Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and ABC Radio's Good Morning Bangladesh, the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club. E-mail: [email protected]

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