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New Egyptian High-School Exam Seeks to Fight Cheating

CAIRO—The Egyptian government has introduced a new high school examination paper designed to put an end to online cheating and exam leaks.

The new system, called the “Booklet” by education ministry officials, will be applied to the General Secondary Education Certificate (GSEC or Thanawiyya ‘Amma). Leaking of exam papers has been rife in Egypt in recent years. (See related article Leaked Questions and Answers Disrupt National Exams.)

The government says the new system, to be introduced in time for this summer’s exams, changes the presentation of the exam papers in a way that makes it harder for students to leak the exam questions and answers. Under the new system, the question papers and the answer sheets will be merged into a single document. Previously, high school students were handed two sheets—one for the questions and another one for the answers. The new system will slow down those students who try to post the questions or the answers on social media.

Reda Hegazi, head of the General Education Division at the Ministry of Education, said the new system will prevent the leaking of exam papers, as the previous system made it possible for students to take photos of the question sheet and immediately post it on social network sites. “The new system is a short-term solution to the country’s exam paper leaking problem,” Hegazi said.

However, the system is facing opposition and is alarming thousands of high school students who are scheduled to take their exams in a few months’ time. They say the new exam papers will not allow them to correct mistakes.

“The exam sheets will not have enough room for the answers and no space at all for correcting any mistakes,” Hend Mohamed, a Thanawya Amma student at a private high school in Cairo, said. Mohamed said the previous answer sheets had adequate space for the answers to the questions and also enough room for correcting mistakes.

Ahmed Abdel Azeem, a student at a public high school, said that the whole examination system in Egypt should be changed. Changing the presentation of exam papers, he said, is less important than changing how students are assessed. “The exams should evaluate students’ understanding and critical thinking, not just memorizing,” he said in an interview.

Many parents and students complain that too much of Egyptian public education consists of poorly paid and under-trained staff drilling students using outdated methods of rote learning. Textbooks are often out of date.

Leaking of exam papers has added a new burden on both government and students. Last year, exam papers and questions were posted on social network sites a few hours before the exams began in the country’s schools.

In response, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el- Sisi said in a speech that the repetition of such a scenario would not occur again. Apart from the newly announced system, the Egyptian Ministry of Education has introduced a number of measures, including jamming mobile phone signals at schools across the country during exam times, as well as tightening control over printing and exam supervision at schools.

The ministry announced that a sovereign body will take responsibility for the printing process and will guard the exam papers on their way from the printing plants to the schools.

Nearly half a million students have enrolled at high schools in this academic year, which started in mid-September. Students usually take their Thanawiyya ‘Amma exams in June and July. The exams mark the final stage of secondary education and pave the way for university entry.

Students who achieve high scores on the high school exams are guaranteed seats at the country’s prestigious colleges, while those who score low marks enroll at institutes and private universities that do not guarantee a competitive edge in the job market.

Although the new examination system has faced criticism, some say that it can be effective in solving the problem of exam leaks.

“In the short term, the new system is the most suitable way for the education ministry to stop exam leaks,” Ayman el-Beeli, an education expert, said.

However, el-Beeli said that the system can still be breached by students who take photos of the whole exam sheets and post them on social network sites. “The new system can make it harder, but it can still be violated,” he said.

Tarek Nour el-Deen, another education expert, said that it is better for the Ministry of Education to start working on changing the whole education and assessment system. “If the government really wants to put an end to private tutoring, online cheating and exam leaks, it has to change the whole system and make it depend more on student achievement rather than fulfilling government quotas,” he said.


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