Pakistan: Separating the Siamese twins.
That being so, the only method to "root out the menace of cheating" - pompous words, indeed, but that is the way our officials often describe their feeble, half-hearted attempts to set things right - is perhaps to stop having exams. No exams; no cheating. Simple, you see.
We all know how bad things were during the recently-held board exams for classes IX and X, and what is going on during exams for classes XI and XII which are still underway. But what we know is often limited to the happenings in major urban centres like Karachi, Lahore and such other cities. That, of course, is only a fraction of the whole scenario.
Two news clippings from the last fortnight can help us see the broader picture both in terms of geographical span and administrative incompetence. First let's go down south to the interior of Sindh.
According to the report in question, students in Sukkur were seen using unfair means with "complete impunity and without any fear of getting caught". Within minutes of its distribution, the question paper "made its way out of the examination hall and into the hands of relatives and friends of the candidates". They got it solved and photocopied before having them smuggled back into the examination hall and in the hands of their respective candidates "with the help of the invigilation staff".
For good measure, the report identified the culprits, saying "low-grade employees as well as policemen posted at examination centres" were the ones working as conduits. Owners of photocopy shops near the centres also had a field day, selling solved papers at the rate of Rs50 to Rs100 despite the imposition of Section 144, which restricted such shops to remain shut down for the duration of the examination, it added.
When journalists tried to enter one of the examination centres to see what was going on inside, they were refused entry by all and sundry, stressing that they had been strictly directed by the chairman of the board not to let them in. Very obedient staff, one must concede.
Let's now go up north to the scenic Murree to have a taste of official incompetence to manage an examination centre. Students taking the English paper at one of the centres there lost 25 minutes because - hold your breath - there were not enough question papers to be distributed among the candidates!
There were 140 copies of the paper that were to be used by 160 students at the said centre. The centre superintendent, said the report, managed to get photocopies done of the paper for distribution among the remaining 20 students. She said the tag on the bundle showed 160 papers, but actually it had 120. Controller Examination of the board concerned, sitting in Rawalpindi, said there were enough papers, but the staff somehow got confused. Confused?
Call it confusion, incompetence or any other description to suit your taste, but the exam could get underway at the centre some 25 minutes behind schedule. To add to the woes of the students, the invigilators then did not give them extra time to compensate for the lost time. The supervisor said she had no authority to give "extra time to the students" as she had "only to follow the instructions of the board". Obedience at the cost of common sense, one may say.
So then, from south to north - and have no doubt about that being applicable on the east-west dimension as well - and from rural to urban Pakistan, there is not much of a difference when it comes to holding exams. One major reason behind the whole thing continuing as it does is the manner in which the exams are held. Setting up centres at various colleges and schools where the staff - teaching and non-teaching inclusive - is placed under an "external" supervisor from some other institution is a system that failed to deliver. Years ago, the same was the pattern for degree exams with similar consequences. Things changed for the better once Karachi University brought them all under one umbrella and took direct responsibility.
Though it has developed some faults over the years, degree exams are still conducted in a much better manner than is the case with the remaining two tiers. By opting for centralised examination centres - say, two or three in large cities and one each in towns - matric and intermediate boards will be managing things directly and will be accountable for all the misdeeds. Right now everyone is able to pass on the buck which, practically speaking, has to stop somewhere. After the unquestionable, unqualified failure of the current practice, anything else would do. Right
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