The leaking of question papers, in any examination, is not new in our country. On numerous occasions, since the independence of the country, question papers have been leaked out. It has become a common phenomenon in all public examinations, that questions are leaked prior to the exam. It is happening in CBSE, in PU papers, in B.Com examinations.
Just look at the records of past one year; AIPMT, UPSSSC, SSC, board exams in Karnataka and what not! And Bihar topper scam, Jharkhand board exam cheating scam, that’s a discussion for some other day.
This kind of question paper leak has become a concerning issue for the education sector in our country. On the one hand, the practice encourages students to expect the best marks without deserving them and unfairly getting jobs meant for more deserving and qualified people. On the other hand, it encourages the greed of the culprits for earning money unethically, in the shortest possible time.
Not only does the leaking of papers harm the very idea of education, it also plays havoc with student’s schedules and state of mind. Exams are cancelled and have to be given again. Sometimes even the re-exams are cancelled because of another leak.
How do papers get leaked?
In most cases of delivery of question papers, there are a large number of people involved — right from those in the printing press, those in logistics of the delivery, officials in treasury offices and to colleges where the papers are stored.
All universities have so-called foolproof methods of printing and storing question papers securely. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) locks the sealed question papers at the nearest branch of its chosen bank. The question paper bundles are taken from the bank only an hour prior to the examination and transported to the examination centres under tight police security.
However, in spite of all security some people manage to leak these questions perhaps through their political and economic connections, the nexus between educators and racketeers.
It is not possible for individuals or groups to come by question papers in advance unless they have links within the education establishment. Recently, the investigation by security agencies into the leakage of II PU papers last month revealed the collusion of lecturers and treasury officials.
The issue merits serious concern and the full attention of the government to curb the menace. So what can and should the government do to stop or minimise such malpractices?
1. Strict action against perpetrators
A strong drive against forces and syndicates which run these rackets must be initiated and exemplary punishment should be given to the people involved. Coaching centres, educational institutes must be thoroughly scrutinised by the Anti-Corruption Commission. The ministry should ensure that the officials who are involved in forwarding, printing and preserving the question paper be mandatorily liable and severely penalised for any leaks of the question paper, to deter them from harbouring such speculations.
Suspected persons related to question leakage should be fired from jobs immediately and criminal cases should be filed. The ministry must also ensure that political influence does not violate the law and influence the situation during the investigation, and in determining the penalty.
2. Greater vigilance over exam papers.
S.C. Sharma, Vice-Chancellor of Tumkur University, suggested the making of multiple sets of papers, to ensure no leakage of papers. “It would be impossible for anyone but the Board of Examinations to know which set goes to which college,” he said.
Among other steps to boost security, Mr. Sharma said the papers should be under the strict vigil of Home Guard, clustering colleges in one common guarded centre and not disclosing the location of the outsourced printing press.
The practice of keeping question papers at taluk-level treasuries could be stopped. Police could guard the question paper, from the time they are taken to district-level treasuries to their being opened in exam halls.
Strong monitoring committees need to be formed in education boards and printing press. The printing should take place in a secure room at the test centres or regional hubs under surveillance cameras and senior observers so that the security and confidentiality of the question paper are maintained right from creation.
3. Raising awareness.
Civil society, academics, and media can play an important role in raising social awareness against this menace. Teachers, guardians, and educators must instil the right moral values in students to discourage them from seeking out leaked papers. They must be taught to value their education and not just that slip of paper they call a degree. They must be made to understand that they are only cheating their own selves in the long run because without proper knowledge they would not be able to give their best in their careers and would surely run into failure there.
4. Adopting technology
The final and overall solution perhaps lies in adopting technology to conduct exams and in providing tighter security to the entire process. While not many view technology as the ultimate solution, it is increasingly emerging as an alternative to prevent such incidents and make the process of conducting exams more robust.
The “just-in-time” paper method involves the creation of a bank of questions or question papers, hosting them in a secure data centre, and delivering them just in time to the examination centres electronically in encrypted form. The decryption rules are made available just in time to senior administrators at the test.
In 2012, after the spate of exam paper leaks in Mumbai, and the rest of the State, the Maharashtra State Government had set up a Committee to attempt to minimise or eliminate illegal practices in examination processes.
The Committee studied the best practices of over 10 universities (in Maharashtra and outside). It subsequently recommended that in order to do away with distribution and delivery processes of question papers the universities should adopt Information Technology Solution for secure delivery of question papers.
The report said, “The question paper once randomly selected/generated from the question paper bank is encrypted and transmitted over a secure channel to the examination centres just one hour before the examination. At the examination centre, it is decrypted with the key/password and printed. This will overcome the leakage of question paper during transportation and printing.”
The ‘secret key’, “should be generated by the system and delivered securely to the concerned persons before the examination, there should be secret keys for individual papers, there should be a provision to deliver secret keys by email, SMS or using the ITS, and there should be a secret key verification system for printing of question papers. Besides this, there should be a well-defined time duration for question paper upload, secret key delivery, and question paper printing.”
Under this method, additional measures like IP tracking and MAC ID binding can ensure foolproof security. Besides, unique identifiers can be placed as a watermark or barcode on every page to help trace every question paper from its origin and time of printing.
While the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Belgaum, made ambitious plans to introduce online delivery of papers to the colleges from that academic year, the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS) in Bangalore already had it in place for the last three years.
N.S. Ashok Kumar, Registrar (Evaluation,) RGUHS, said the process had “completely removed the nuisance of leakage.We start sending the papers online, all controlled through codes given to colleges, around 30 minutes before the examination. Using
We start sending the papers online, all controlled through codes given to colleges, around 30 minutes before the examination. Using high-speed printers installed at the colleges, the papers are distributed to the students,” he explained.
For corrections, and for overall monitoring, each college has a nodal officer from the university who acts as a liaison officer. However, setting up of such a system encompassing hundreds of colleges has problems mainly with the setting up of servers, installation of software, and usage of network connectivity in the colleges, Dr. Kumar said. The costs could also be a concern.
For colleges that are well equipped and are close to existing broadband networks this solution can be feasible but for other colleges situated in remote areas, it may not be possible to connect all of them, mainly because of the cost factor.
5. Online testing
Another alternative would be to conduct online tests. Everywhere in the world, online tests are conducted for the majority of examinations, but we have so far failed to embrace the technology for our entrance examinations.
Most students consider computer-based tests more secure. Online tests process faster and give error-free results and are free from leaks. CAT, the most prestigious examination for MBA, have been successfully conducted in online mode from the year 2009. Most of the banking exams for Bank PO and other posts are happening online. Even JEE Main have online mode option for candidates, but it’s not compulsory.
Today, it’s AIPMT, tomorrow, it can be JEE Advanced. When an exam is an objective (multiple choice) type, and a student just needs to mark the correct answer, then conducting online tests seems most practical.
The tests are always stored on secure servers which are available only at the scheduled time of the examination. Hacking can be prevented by making the system super secure with the help of brilliant IT professionals.
This year, achieving a remarkable feat, RRB conducted world’s biggest online examination which facilitated a record number of 93 lakh applications.
Moreover, even SSC has turned it’s CGL examination to online mode to end the possibilities of malpractice.
6. Random computerised selection of questions.
A new-age option forwarded by a writer in the Department of Computer Science, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Malaysia is worth considering.
A central database of a pool of varied type of questions or question bank should be prepared for a particular education board or for all education boards to have a large number of possible questions for a particular subject.
The specific software can be developed to generate the question paper electronically by randomly selecting questions from the pool of questions stored in the database. After generation of the paper set, the approver or the examination committee would approve it, and that set of questions would appear in front of the candidate in the exam hall itself.
“The idea is simple and is very much doable. There are very qualified software programmers in our country who could write the codes for it. Network solution providers could help build the network infrastructure. Economists could try to estimate the installation costs and longer benefits. Educationists could see the positive points of it for the exam systems.”
With a little bit of creativity and innovation, the whole structure of examining students can be revamped so that the processes become immunised against all kinds of malpractices, so that fair and honest assessment of students can take place.