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Question leaks that have so far menaced public and other examinations have now started taking place for terminal examinations even at the primary level, further jeopardizing the already declining standards of education.
According to a study by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), the trend can be traced as far back as the SSC exam of 1979. And from then, it has only increased, and today it threatens to engulf the entire education system.
Some recent newspaper reports would disclose the severity of the crisis such as on December 13: In Munshiganj all examinations in 119 schools had to be cancelled following leaks of questions for classes II-IV. December 14: Following leaks of questions each of classes I and V, final exams of one subject each were cancelled in 248 schools in Barguna. December 19: In Natore this time, the maths final exam of 123 schools had to be suspended. Gone are the days when question leaks meant SSC, HSC or university admission exams. What lows have we sunk to, if someone thinks that they can now make money from leaking questions for primary school students? What next? Leaking of viva questions for kindergarten enrolment? For those who forgot, the higher levels are already swamped with similar allegations. In October this year, University of Dhaka authorities, when asked about the allegations of the leaking of question papers of D unit admission exam, outright denied it. Questions for some subjects of this year's SSC and HSC exams too were widely circulated—in some cases even openly on Facebook.
The situation is so bad that the Anti-Corruption Commission last week sent a letter to the cabinet to step up efforts for stopping corruption in the education sector. That, and the conscientious parents who pointed out the leaks to the authorities has seen some results. In Munshiganj, nine have been arrested. There have been some arrests too of individuals linked to leaking of DU university admission questions in 2015 and 2016. Ironically, one such recent arrest is of an assistant director at Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protisthan (BKSP), allegedly a mastermind of a question paper leaking gang, who himself got the government job because of his “connections”. All this brings me to the conclusion that question paper leaks and their growing prevalence is not merely a problem but a symptom of a bigger issue with our educational environment. And worse, the intellectual crippling of an entire generation is yet to come.
What the wise parents who pointed out to the authorities when questions were leaked in the recent cases did is not the established practice. The TIB study mentioned earlier found unhealthy competition among and in schools to be one of the major reasons behind the phenomenon of question leaks. Our entire education system today is based on securing top marks at any cost and parents are rightly worried; missing out might mean a bleak future for their wards. This explains the mushrooming of coaching centres, the ubiquity of the supposedly banned guide books in the market and of course spending money to buy question papers.
So what brought us here? For one, our education system is now a matter of prestige, where anything other than a “golden” GPA 5 or a background in science is shameful. Our questions are based on testing the memorisation power of students, and the creative questions which were supposed to be the solution, only created a new form of memorisation because of untrained teachers. It is far easier for students and teachers if the “creative” questions are selected from a pool widely available of course.
Academics and guardians, citing incidents of question leaks in terminal exams of Class I-IV students, raised the alarm about the future of the country’s education, already at crossroads, bringing the whole system into question. They blamed government’s attitude of denial towards question leaks, non-enforcement of the existing laws, lack of punishment for the offenders and indifferent attitude of responsible authorities for the question papers being leaked.
The ACC has pointed out, as has TIB in the past, the sources of our question leaks: namely the education board, BG Press, treasury and exam centres. They have given recommendations on how to tackle the issue such as greater oversight, digitalisation, separation of duties of question preparation and invigilation, checking if any of those involved have children sitting for exams that year.
These are important. With that, I would like to add, what we need to fix too is the demand side of things—that students and parents opt for obtaining these questions knowing that it is wrong. And for that, we need to rethink our education system, from the training of teachers to how they teach in classrooms. Without that, we may put an end to leaks with great oversight, but education will continue to be about getting into a good university and a secure livelihood. These are important and realistic considerations of course, but if someone goes through almost 20 years of education without learning to distinguish and act on considerations of right and wrong, to love learning for its sake or without a basic sense of integrity, then where are we headed?