Internet and technology experts are considering introducing new technology to prevent question leaks in public examinations, as culprits spread questions using digital communication platforms.
The government also feels that under the existing system preventing question leaks is nearly impossible, but technology based solutions might help stop it.
A team of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) has been working on introducing a technological solution since last July when the Ministry of Education formed a number of probe committees in the face of criticism over their failure to check question paper leaks.
To determine strategies to prevent leaks, the High Court has recently formed judicial and administrative committees that are supposed to begin work soon.
Dr M Sohel Rahman, professor of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at BUET, also a member of the administrative body, told the Dhaka Tribune that they will try to prevent question leaks during the upcoming HSC exams with a short-term solution.
With his colleague Professor Dr M Kaikobad as chair, the five-member panel will come up with a long-term solution. They will consult with experts from home and abroad and conduct feasibility studies before finally making their recommendations to the court.
Primary Idea: ‘Distributed Printing’ system
The BUET experts think that the ‘distributed printing’ method could be a good idea. Initially this system seemed quite expensive but later the cost seemed justifiable.
If the government chooses this system, it would require high speed Internet, a printer, a photocopier and some CCTV cameras at each exam centre.
“To install the system, according to our department’s estimate, Tk600 to 900 will have to be spent on each candidate. Once it is installed, the authorities will need to spend a minimal amount for maintenance. The system can be operated for five to six years,” Prof Sohel said.
How Distributed Printing will work
In this system the questions have to be selected on the morning of the examination.
“For this we thought of a digital question bank. In fact, the Jessore Education Board has already used a software on pilot basis for the automated question bank,” said the BUET teacher.
The education board will collect questions from expert teachers on different occasions throughout the year through the software. On the morning of exam, through another software, questions will be chosen automatically from the bank.
The bank will not be connected to Internet access so that it cannot be not hacked.
“The questions will not be chosen on random basis but there will be system of difficulty levels. The questions will then go for printing,” he said.
The experts concede that building an automated question bank will need time. They are therefore considering other options. Their main concern is that the questions have to be printed just before exam to avoid leaks.
“Those who prepare questions can be deployed like a jury. As for example, the question preparing teachers will go to the education board office the night before the exam. They will prepare it and the moderators will moderate it and questions will be ready by morning. They will be under surveillance until the exam starts,”
The questions will be sent through secured means
The system of sending question papers to the centers will be encrypted and password protected.
“We have to calculate how much time it requires to print question papers at the centre. The questions will be sent to the centre calculating the time. The soft version of the question will be sent through virtual private network,” said Prof Sohel.
Content sent through VPN cannot be hacked easily, or the hacker will find it password protected. “We will create a password that is strong and hard to break,” he added.
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As no system is unbreakable, the IT experts will ensure that the questions would be printed only before anyone breaks into the system. “It is enough if we can keep it beyond hackers’ reach for four to five hours,” he added.
“There are many sophisticated protocols for passwords. They do not need to be invented,” the expert said.
Exam centres will be under surveillance
The question paper will be printed at the exam centers upon receiving the file through private network.
“There might be a real time camera which will take footage of the printing of question papers. The video can be played later by a magistrate,” the BUET teacher said.
If the system is built more sophisticatedly, a central command station can be set upto enable officials to observe real-time footage from the CCTVs. “There can even be an artificial intelligence component which will process the image and flag any attempts to take pictures of questions at the printer areas,” he said.
The IT expert said that surveillance can be kept at a high level of sophistication, depending on expenses. “We have the ability to build a system in which the prime minister or education minister can watch real-time feed of exam centres from home.”
He said that the government normally does not go for a permanent solution like distributed printing fearing expenses and goes for inadequate short term solutions like letting students enter the exam hall half an hour before the exam or shutting down the Internet.
Another system: the ‘Digital Envelope’
The Bangladesh Government Press (BG Press) composes, prints, and packages the selected sets of questions and locks them in trunks to be delivered to authorities in the District Administration Treasury offices.
“We want to bring in technology, maybe a digital envelope or box to keep the printed question papers instead of sealed trunk. If anyone opens the envelope before the exam it would trigger an alarm or send smses to certain mobile numbers,” Prof Sohel said, adding that some countries already use this technology.
“Earlier we thought the idea of secured envelope will work well. But, during a recent visit to the BG press when we learnt that the questions are sorted out and revised several times, we got confused at what stage we should introduce the digital envelope,” he said.
The technical expert thinks that there should be a change in the whole system of preparing question papers. Before the upcoming HSC exams they have 40 days in hand. “It is not possible to bring in a new system for all boards. It’s a huge task.”
“But this can be thought for the future as a permanent solution,” he added.
He said that using ICT for question papers’ security is a cat-and-mouse game. It needs to be updated on a regular basis. Whatever it takes, the government will need to therefore concentrate on reviewing and revising its strategies. “It’s like war,” Prof Sohel said.