Tech and cheating

Wednesday, 20 December 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A student sitting for the Ordinary Level exam has been caught using Viber to answer his exam paper, in what is the latest incident of tech-assisted cheating at national exams. As technology adapts faster, how can Sri Lanka’s education authorities tackle these challenges? 

Earlier this year an Advanced Level student was slapped with a lifetime ban on State exams, essentially ending his formal education, after he leaked the chemistry paper during the exam. The student was equipped with a camera hidden in his shirt, which snapped photos of the questions and automatically sent them to his home computer. His father, a dentist, had then sent these photos to a tuition master. They were printed and the fliers were handed out to students outside a popular school in Gampaha. All this barely took three hours and highlights the swiftness with which technology can invade and change the rules. In the latest instance the student was communicating on Viber to get answers for the mathematics paper. 

Despite the serious repercussions, students are unlikely to be deterred from cheating. For as long as people think the risk is worth it they will continue to push the boundaries and better tech may just help them get away with cheating. 

This is not just a trend seen in Sri Lanka. A growing number of UK university students are cheating in exams with the help of technological devices such as mobile phones, smart watches and hidden earpieces. 

Data obtained by the Guardian newspaper found a 42% rise in cheating cases involving technology over the last four years – from 148 in 2012 to 210 in 2016. Last year, a quarter of all students caught cheating used electronic devices. Experts say the true figure is likely to be much higher because the high level of sophistication in gadgets students can get their hands on – such as mini cameras and micro earbuds – means not all cheats will be caught. 

At least 17 students were caught cheating with smart watches over the period examined, and cases of students using hidden earpieces or miniature cameras were reported at multiple universities. Some universities reported no cases of cheating over the four years, which one expert said was “highly unlikely”. This simply meant no one had caught the cheaters. 

eBay and other shopping websites offer numerous options for potential cheaters. Companies such as Monorean openly advertise as online stores to buy invisible earpieces for cheating in exams. Students who have grown up with smart phones and other tech or are simply tired of the unimaginative “learn by rote” system used in most education systems have no qualms about using what is right at their fingertips. 

Imposing lifetime exam bans on cheats is one way to deter others but another is also to set less predictable exam papers. Most cheating is detected in papers that require numbers such as economics and science subjects and these will be the hardest to guard. What is inescapable is the need for the authorities to step up their vigilance and adapt new systems because they can rest assured that tech is learning faster than they are.