- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

DHAKA, Bangladesh Bangladesh has expelled thousands of high school seniors this month in a nationwide crackdown on a national pastime cheating.

The Education Ministry is also targeting educators who help students cheat, dismissing up to 40 teachers for unlawfully handing out answers to a standardized national examination required of all high school seniors for graduation.

The crackdown is aimed at what has become an ingrained element and chronic ailment in Bangladeshi schooling. Beginning in the eighth or ninth grade and continuing through to the university level, students find it easier and more effective to buy or otherwise obtain answers to tests rather than actually study.

Determined to put a stop to the practice, the Education Ministry also initiated a media campaign this year to coincide with the high school graduation exam, known as the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination.

Advertisements, both in print and on television, warn the half-million candidates due to graduate this year that anyone caught cheating will be punished severely.

In just the past two weeks, more than 15,000 high school students were expelled from the examination nationwide.

Still, critics fear the campaign is having little effect.

"Only a few are expelled, [but] many more are actually cheating through successfully. For the government, it is not an easy job to stamp out cheating, which seems to have become an educational tradition in Bangladesh," says Angela Robinson, a British volunteer education adviser with the Church of Bangladesh.

Khalilur Rahman, a Dhaka-based professor, said that the government's inability to stop cheating reflects an "embarrassing culture" of unscrupulous schools, dishonest teachers and "moral decline of a whole society."

"Many teachers, parents and even political parties are supporting the malpractice selfishly. The education system of the whole country is heading for a big chaos," Mr. Rahman added.

With much at stake in the exams for pupils, schools and even political parties authorities find it difficult to rid the system of these problems.

Students with high SSC grades improve their chances of being admitted to the country's top colleges and universities.

For a high school student, a poor SSC result means the end of the road. Opportunities to enter any college for further study dry up, and the dream of someday securing a lucrative government job ends rather abruptly.

Government high schools with students who perform poorly risk having their funding cut.

And private high schools cannot survive unless they can show parents that their students score high on the examinations.

As a result, in just about every school, students and teachers collude, Mr. Rahman said.

Moreover, Bangladeshi political parties sometimes hand out answers on the sly as a way to buy votes.

"Student unions loyal to both ruling and opposition parties are helping pupils to cheat in return for getting their political support in the future and it has made the situation worse," said a British journalist who is working on a documentary about the cheating game.

Still, government officials say they are determined to stop the practice and cite as evidence of their new get-tough policy the recent mass expulsions of both students and teachers.

In addition to the expulsions, stringent security has been implemented as well, with armed policemen deployed outside examination halls. Police have arrested a number of people caught trying to smuggle notes to candidates inside examination centers.

Hundreds have been injured in clashes involving on-duty policemen and angry teen-age pupils, who rioted after they were expelled.

In some areas, photocopies of the examination papers were available on the black market. For less than $10, a candidate could have an advance look at an examination paper.

The answers to the English section of the examination reportedly fetched $39.

The Bangladesh College Teachers Association has accused some student union leaders of threatening exam supervisors with violence if they stop certain people from cheating.

"We agree that some [supervisors] turn a blind eye to cheating, but in most cases, we are helpless before some students and others who are armed with knives, acid bulbs and sometimes even guns," said a top Dhaka public-school headmaster who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Educators such as Miss Robinson say the government's efforts to police the SSC examination are inadequate to eradicate the practice.

"As teachers are not teaching learning skills, pupils are not equipped to understanding or think. In fact, they are learning many wrong skills to get away with doing very little work," she said.

As cheating in examinations becomes more widespread at all levels in high schools, colleges and universities, many educators fear the practice will undermine the value of academic degrees.

"Mass cheating at different levels has produced adulterated graduates and masters, many of whom are in top jobs in the country. Some even represent Bangladesh abroad," said Mr. Rahman.

"It is truly unfortunate that many of them are becoming teachers to make an already-corrupt education system [deteriorate] further," he said.

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