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Monday, 28 August 2017

ENSURING FAIR PLAY

Cheating in examinations has a long and undistinguished history. This week, it has emerged that certain teachers in three of the UK's most expensive fee-paying schools have informed students beforehand about questions in forthcoming exams. You can read about the issue here.

These examinations were not A-levels but an equivalent Cambridge exam set for students in such schools in Britain. They are created, marked and endorsed by CIE - the same organisation used at KYUEM for AS and A2 tests. Needless to say, CIE has rapidly condemned the practice and invalidated all the exams involved. Students have not been blamed, but the teachers in each case have, rightly, lost their jobs. It is a very serious matter indeed.

Serious, but as I say, not unknown. Today's technology includes Bluetooth ear pieces, spectacles with built-in cameras and even Internet-connected ball-point pens, all of which can be used to deceive invigilators or examination moderators. What makes the case in the UK so awful is that students were blameless - the villains were their teachers.

When I was a boy, we used to intone the phrase "cheats never prosper," and while I sincerely hope this is still as true today, we can never afford to relax our guard. At KYUEM, CIE exam papers are securely locked in a storage location that would be the envy of Fort Knox and only the Examinations Officer has access to them. Relevant individual papers are only issued on the day and time of the exam itself. They are carefully counted in and out according to a tried and tested procedure that brooks no error or opportunity for irregularity. A couple of years ago, a CIE Inspector who visited us during the main AS and A2 exam period, was so impressed with our way of doing things, that we were commended in his report and he took pictures of what he had seen.

What do you do if you spot a cheat? In the case of teachers doing it, the answer is simple. As shown in the article quoted, they are summarily dismissed. When it is a student, the issue might not be so straightforward. Some years ago, when I was working in Abu Dhabi, the college authorities decreed that any student caught cheating would be banned from any national tertiary institute for life. This sounds like a pretty effective deterrent, but in fact, it had no effect at all. Teachers (mostly expatriates) who saw evidence of cheating, were reluctant to report it because it would mean blighting the entire future of a young person. The best way, as CIE requires us to do, is to investigate the issue and declare the exam (or maybe just the single paper) invalid.

I think the most blatant, and, I suppose, in its own devious way, impressive form of cheating I ever saw was when working for the military in Saudi Arabia. Students had to take a final test consisting of 100 multiple choice questions: a, b, c, or d on their answer papers. One student was selected  because of his ability to provide the correct answers for everyone else in the exam room. He sat in the middle of the front row (where all could see him) and leaned his cheek on his left hand while filling in the answers with his right. His left index finger was extended if the correct answer was a, his second finger for b, his third for c and his little finger for d. It took four different tests for us to catch on, but we then declared all the previous ones invalid and everyone took a new set with extra invigilators present to check on who was doing what with his fingers!

I have only been aware of one teacher who resorted to cheating in my 40 years in this job. One of my colleagues in a school overseas heard the students talking as they were leaving for the weekend. They were saying that their Physics teacher had pre-warned them about all the questions in an upcoming internal examination.  My colleague informed the Head of Department and a group of us went to the school over the weekend and removed the appropriate Physics papers, which we destroyed. The Head of Physics then rewrote the entire paper, the rest of us helped photocopy it and the new copies were safely locked away in the exam room before the weekend was over. Students were shocked when they opened their Physics papers on the Monday morning to find they were nothing like the ones that their teacher had prepared them for. The teacher never knew what we had done, and his contract was not renewed at the end of the year.

I'm delighted to say we don't have any such teachers at KY, but the fact that people with such dubious ethics have been employed by some of the most prestigious and expensive schools in the world is reprehensible. Clear evidence for diligence at all times and the application of the best security procedures is a paramount requirement. Rest assured, we will continue to uphold the highest standards here at all times.

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