Algeria has taken extreme measures to thwart high school exam cheats
Algeria is a country that seems to take the fidelity of its examination process extremely seriously. Back in 2016, high school exam questions were leaked online before and during tests, and to ensure it doesn’t happen again, the country is enforcing a nationwide blackout of internet services for an hour after the start of each exam.
The closure will affect everyone, and applies to both mobile and fixed-line internet connections in a bid to prevent any kind of cheating: inadvertently affecting people who don’t have exams to cheat on.
There’s no denying that’s an extreme response, and it’s hard to imagine such measures occuring in the UK to stop GCSE students getting their Of Mice and Men questions ahead of time, but Algeria clearly feels it has no other option. In 2017, the country tried a softer approach, asking ISPs to block access to social media during exam times, but the voluntary measures weren’t followed closely enough to have an impact.
Just in case shutting down the whole internet wasn’t draconian enough, exam halls have been instructed to enforce additional measures: all electronic devices are banned from the country’s 2,000 exam halls, and each entrance has a metal detector to make doubly sure. If borrowing airport security measures typically used to deter terrorists wasn’t enough, surveillance cameras and phone jammers have also been installed at exam printing presses.
They’re not messing around.
In an interview with Algerian newspaper Annahar, the education minister Nouria Benghabrit said that although they were “not comfortable” with the steps taken, “we should not passively stand in front of such a possible leak.”
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact this has when the exam results are published on 22 July. More unfairly, will a high-achieving student graduating from the class of 2016 where cheating was allegedly widespread be treated differently to one who gets good results in 2018? If the results are better than previous years, would that suggest cheating wasn’t as widespread? What happens to the businesses and citizens who miss urgent emails during the blackout? It could be that debuting an untested policy like this without smaller trials leads to some unwelcome and unexpected consequences…