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Dr Shehzad Jeeva
Dr Shehzad Jeeva

THE growing menace of cheating in exams recently made headlines across Sindh; the matter became so serious that the government had to launch a crackdown led by the Counter-Terrorism Depar­tment of police on what was described as an ‘organised cheating mafia’. While investigation into the case may be continuing, there still exists a question about the government’s reluctance or failure to improve educational standards by learning from institutions that have set commendable examples in the country.

A case in point is the Aga Khan University Examination Board (AKU-EB), the first private university-led national exam board operating in the country since 2003. It’s currently headed by Dr Shehzad Jeeva, an alumnus of Karachi University’s Chemistry Department, who returned to Pakistan after extensive study and research at institutions like the University of Cambridge, University of York, the UK and McGill University, Canada.

Faiza Ilyas recently spoke to him on the increasing trend of cheating in exams and how the AKU-EB discourages it at its 174 centres, the total number of schools and colleges registered with the board across Pakistan.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

Q: What has led to an increase in cheating in exams?

A: Cheating as a tactic is incentivised in Pakistani society. We believe that students only cheat when adults permit them to do so. There is no single entity, however, upon which the entire blame for this phenomenon could be placed on, particularly students, who are underage and simply acting on their learned behaviour.

Q. What are the strategies followed at the AKU-EB centres to discourage cheating?

A. The most important strategy that we employ to prevent cheating lies within the very construction of our exams; we create each exam in a manner that significantly lowers any incentive students might have to cheat.

This is done through (a) multiple choice question paper arranged into four different sequences of questions; (b) critical response questions and extended response questions which are built with concept-based learning in mind. This means that bringing in material that could potentially be used to cheat will prove to be less useful — students will first need to understand the questions being asked and challenge themselves into applying what they have learned in answering them.

Apart from this, we have also adopted a number of policies that include measures such as ensuring that all supervisory and invigilation duties are carried out by the AKU-EB trained personnel to guarantee fair and transparent conduct of exams. No material except transparent stationary boxes and admit cards is permitted into the examination hall.

Last but not the least, monitoring at the exam centres is conducted through closed-circuit television cameras. This ensures that the conduct of our invigilators is also accounted for, as well as lending a second set of eyes for the purposes of monitoring general examination conduct.

Q. How do you encourage students not to cheat?

A: The most important factor in ensuring that students do not cheat is to provide them with a platform that is both fair and transparent. It is important that students understand that our practices are not meant to be punitive, but to ensure that they receive a fair opportunity to demonstrate how much they have learned from the syllabus.

We are very open about how our e-marking and grading systems function. The e-marking system ensures that student anonymity is guaranteed when their papers are marked — this eliminates any chance of personal bias on the part of examiners marking the papers, and also allows multiple examiners to grade each student’s examination paper. In addition, our MCQ papers are first machine checked and then further rechecked to avoid error on either end.

Prior to e-marking, our seeding process ensures that the marking schemes are comprehensive, standardised and clear for examiners, which allows for fair and objective marking. If we find even a moderate discrepancy between how likely examiners are to award marks, we consider this to be an issue on our end and make sure the schemes are revised.

In addition, we also look for discrepancies displayed by students — if a student scores very well on one section of an exam, but not on another then we consider this to be grounds for rechecking their work.

Q: What are the consequences of cheating prevalent in exams on students and society?

A: We are already bearing witness to the consequences of this phenomenon. The fact that students are taught at a young age that cheating is the way to succeed in their academic pursuits translates into how they approach life later as well. A culture of bribe-taking, shortcuts and unethical behaviour begins when students believe it is in their interest to cheat rather than prepare for their courses.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2017