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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mobile phones and exam malpractices

Examination malpractices perpetuated via mobile phone’s Short Message Service (SMS) has continued to rise in Nigeria, among students, reports REMMY NWEKE.
Lately at Ikoyi part of Lagos, a young lady who identified herself as Mrs. Elizabeth Okonma entered a fast-food joint along the Awolowo Road, when she put up a call with her mobile phone to a number, which was discovered to be her daughter’s; to find out where she was and what was still holding her in the school, so that she could join her for a lunch and a ride home. Within 10 minutes, the young girl surfaced in her school uniform at the eatery, by that time the lunch has been bought and they simply ate and headed home.

As the nation commemorated eight years of the advent of Global System for Mobile communications (GSM), this August, one issue that comes to mind has been the adaption of mobile phones by Nigerian youths, especially the students positively.

It is not in contention whether young people and students precisely should own a mobile phone due to its usefulness, but another aspect that has become a sign of worry to stakeholders is the usage of this useful piece during examinations for malpractices.

There is no gain saying that the use of mobile phones by anybody, particularly the students cannot be over-emphasized due to its laudable advantages.

So, worried by this, some stakeholders in the nation’s education sector recently canvassed for the ban of mobile phones usage in examination halls, in order to curb malpractice.

According to those who spoke to ITRealms Online on the subject, including students and educationists, all concurred that there is need for such a ban to bring sanity into the educational and examination system particularly in the country to avoid further deterioration of the sector.

Head, French Linguistic at the Lagos State College of Education, Ijanikin, Dr. Olu Akeusola, told ITRealms Online that the usage of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has boosted education, but cautioned on the negative effect. As said by him, with the rise in technology advancement, students have taken examination malpractices at almost every stratum of education to another level.

Akeusola noted that some students have used this platform of owning a mobile phone, for example, to propagate examination frauds, stressing, “Some of them store answers on their phones and take this into examination halls.” Decrying the situation, he said, that some engage somebody at God know where, who sends answers to them while they are still in the exam hall through Short Message Service (SMS).

Outlining solution for the way forward, Akeusola advocated that students should be banned from bringing their mobile phones into the examination halls, pointing out, “No one should be allowed to leave the examination hall as soon as it commences, rather they should use the toilet or whatever they want to do before coming into the exam hall.”

Dr. Akeusola equally enjoined telecom operators to ensure co-operation with educational institutions and examination body like JAMB, to make certain that a solution is arrived at, stressing, that any culprit caught should be made to serve punishment and even be taken to court to serve as deterrent to others. He declared that the use of mobile phones in examination halls should be viewed as a serious crime against the state.

Also speaking, a 200 level student from Akwa-Ibom State Polytechnic, Ms Ndifreke Assam, said, “some female students actually hide their phones in their under-wears and when confronted by the invigilators claim they were only adjusting their sanitary towels to make it firm.” For her, securities should be tightened at the venue of exams using detectors to search students before they enter exam halls to ensure they enter the hall without their phones, warning female students of the health implication of putting mobile phones in their under-wears.

For a 300 level student, University of Ilorin, Ajibola Collins, the problem of malpractice through mobile phones could be attributed to students who want an easy way to scale the examination hurdles without stress. Additionally, Collins argued that it has become so rampant as most students no longer rely on their natural ability any more in scaling through examinations, due to improved technology, especially on GSM platform in solving their examination challenges with SMS and most of those who indulge in these activities are students who envisage it as the best possible option to pass at a sitting rather rot away at home because of the inability to pass examinations.

ITRealms Online investigations revealed that since the advent of GSM in the country, it has contributed to vast developments in the country.

Yet, apart from improving and accelerating productivity in various ventures, it has also led to ‘developments’ in the education sector, thus, easing the stress usually encountered by students in performing such tasks.

Therefore, the use of mobile phones in exam malpractices has made the ongoing efforts at curbing examination malpractice as yet another setback and even as no known perpetrator has been brought to book or conclusively trialed.

Described as e-cheating among the students, the cell phone technology seems to have provided a smart way to beat the effort of government and civil society groups to stamp out the menace.
Above all, it has been discovered to be rampant among students that sit for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations using mobile phones, iPods in committing malpractice during the exams than in any other exam entity like the West African Examination Council (WAEC) or National Examination Council (NECO).

Not only are mobile phones used by secondary school leavers seeking admission into higher institutions, students of these institutions have been found to engage in such malpractices. It has become the order of the day for students, as some gather “it’s a normal thing”.

Hence, it has become an ‘epidemic’ in the nation’s educational system which needs immediate attention. Just as yearly, a lot of phones are seized from students whom despite all the warnings still smuggle their phones into exam halls, to boost their results eventually.

It was a drama-like scenario recently at Morocco Comprehensive Junior High School, Yaba-Lagos, as three young girls who received text messages to answers on Economics, Mathematics and English, refused to accept ownership of their mobile phones, while pointing fingers at the invigilator whom they said handed over the handsets to them.

The drama continued for over 30 minutes, as the two of the female candidates tried in futility to explain to the monitoring team supervisor and the invigilator how the mobile phones got into the hall, and whilst the argument rages, more answers found their way into the mobile phones through text messages.

Even as another student caught in the act by an invigilator while trying to send (expo) text to other candidates pleaded that he be allowed to help other students, after all, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rigged the April 2007 presidential election and heaven did not fall.

JAMB registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, who arrived one of the centres on a tip off by a supervisor, used the GSM phone of one of the suspects to call and requested for answers in other subjects. The receiver apparently unaware of the situation, asked to be given some time to send the solved answers via text message.

Equally, some invigilators were accused of encouraging malpractices during examinations through allowing some candidates to cheat with the conviction that someone somewhere would assist their own children in terms of need too.

Parents are not left out in the menace as most are the driving force behind such acts, like in the case of a parent who was caught sending SMS to her daughter, she was willing to go to any length for her child to go to the university. She also expressed determination to make her aim realised.

ITRealms Online gathered that in year 2007, JAMB confiscated about 1,948 mobile phones; last year, this figure increased to 3,039 and this year, it was reported that about 200 mobile phones were seized during exams by JAMB with evidence of prepared answers sent via Short Message Service (SMS).

This position of JAMB elucidated some reactions from industry observers, who argued that it is impossible for the figure to have just come down from over 3,000 to just 200, when the bulk of the untapped market in telecommunications, mostly GSM not only focused on the youth, but most of who are students.

However, efforts at confirming the true situation of things by our correspondent from JAMB proved aborted as the public relations officer, Ms Chinwe Ogbuka, refused to respond to queries or calls as at press time.

Above all, stakeholders must join hands to ensure that this absurdity is nipped in the bud, although some maintained that a revolution could only happen in the sector when the Nigerian nation begins to recognize hardwork rather than politicization of the educational system, for the mere reason that most of those in the helm of affairs have their wards schooling abroad.

Industry observers further advocated that a collaboration with the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), could see the mounting of relevant gadgets at exam centres, specifically to block SMS and even call within a given radius.

Experts said that such partnership would see that those perpetrators would not be successful in their mission, because their SMS even when sent could either hang on the network and deliver when the students must have finished his or her exam and stepped out of the vicinity or simply undelivered.

Equally important is the consideration of outright ban on mobile phones into any exam hall, because some of the sophisticated mobile handsets ‘jammer’ to block reception entirely, although there is need to legislate about this, because installing reception ‘jammer’ could be interpreted as denying one access to information and fundamentals of human rights, which include the right to receive information.

So, the sooner the industry regulators like the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and JAMB among others, team-up, the better for the two sectors and the nation at large.

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