Tunisians complain of cheating in exams
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 01/06/09
Tunisian teachers claim the phenomenon of cheating on school exams is worsening. As this year's bac approaches, many instructors say that even distinguished students are breaking the rules. Some students attribute their behaviour to what they consider the "unbalanced scheduling of the subjects" and claim to be "extremely overloaded".
Speaking to Magharebia, many students were ready with justifications.
"Believe me, I sometimes find myself forced to resort to cheating in some – but not all – subjects," said eighth-grader Nader. "The curriculum is overloaded in Tunisia and I'm required to achieve a good result that pleases my parents, who I don't think know or even ask how I achieved such a result."
Another student, Feras, said he chose the arts section because he hates maths. "However, this subject continued to haunt me, which forced me to cheat. I don't understand why the Ministry of Education insists on requiring maths for arts students."
Nevertheless, there are many students who view cheating as an attempt to escape the truth.
Senda Azizi says that many of his peers prefer to play all year long, and "in the end, when the net closes on them, they choose the easy way out – cheating and nothing else".
She told Magharebia these kids then "spend whole nights preparing and planning [to cheat] instead of studying their lessons."
According to Mohamed Essid, an inspector in public education, the phenomenon is spread between male and female students alike, especially among high school and university students.
Essid was confident, however, that cheating would not impact the bac in any significant way. "The control and the system of examination can only be penetrated in very rare cases," he said.
Each year, the Ministry of Education re-publishes the regulatory rules for conducting the exams and the penalties awaiting students who violate them. Under these rules, students are required to surrender all electronic devices, documents and books outside the exam room. At the start of each examination session, students are also required to show their national ID cards and the examination notice, and to hand their IDs to the two control observers for confirmation when handing in their answer papers. Students are not allowed to leave the examination hall for any reason whatsoever until they hand in the examination papers.
Students arriving late are not permitted to enter the exam room. In cases where students are delayed for reasons beyond their control, they must report to the head of the examination centre.
In spite of these tough measures, education ministry observers discovered two cases of cheating during last year's bac exams – one in Kairouan province and the other in Sousse province.
Cheating, attempted cheating or assisting in cheating are gross violations that can lead to the disqualification of the concerned student's exam paper. Even fraud in grading can void a test.
Furthermore, anyone caught cheating can be expelled from public schools and banned from taking the baccalaureate for up to five years.
For some teachers, exam time means police work. "Each time, we discover a new way in which modern technology is used," said Lamia.
"In most cases, we manage to evade the observers' eyes," W.K., a student, told Magharebia. He described some of the strategies kids use, ranging from "writing the lessons in small handwriting on small pieces of paper to typing the information using the typewriter in small font".
Others use mobile phones to pass or store information via SMS or photographs.
Meryam Manai, a mother of two high school students, said the media portrays cheating as an act of heroism. "Each year at the start of the exam season, the newspapers offer us a wide variety of types of cheating that the students proudly reveal. This is bad for students' future, as cheating is turned into a way of life."
Meryam said cheaters should be deterred by "imposing the maximum penalties on them, as well as summoning their parents to tell them about their children's behaviour."
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