I do not know why the issue of cheating in the Thanaweya Amma, or secondary school final exams, was not discussed during iftar al-osra Al-Misreya — the iftar banquet attended by President El-Sisi and many public figures.
I believe there is a dire need for a presidential statement about the issue since it concerns a key component of comprehensive development that we all want — namely nurturing an honest and aware citizen who is loyal to his country.
This is primarily a matter of rearing during all stages of education, and no matter how much theoretical planning goes into it, and best practices employed, the presence of a cheater and troublemaker who ignores the law will remain a major obstacle to any system.
The cheating that took place and the leaks that many conspired in started with a couple of teachers who sold their conscience to the devil, with printers who do not know the meaning of integrity, supervisors who ignored the matter during exams, other subversives who use technology to spread their corruption, ending in lazy and careless students who just want to pass by any means, and parents who pay for stealth modern technology in order for their children to pass by cheating and fraud. Some parents are even proud and post pictures of their children cheating using cell phones during exams.
Meanwhile, the education system is calcified and has not changed its mechanisms and systems for many decades, although the definition of knowledge, education, and upbringing have changed at the core. We have stayed the same without making any progress.
All this makes us feel we are facing a crisis of a society that has lost its mind and a crisis of conscience and commitment that no longer exist for a great many Egyptians.
How could we possibly ask our youth to work hard, rise up, innovate, and seek knowledge within this system that is contradictory to the simplest principles of citizenship and equality of opportunity? How can we ask them to trust in the future and that it bodes well for them at a time when they see their colleagues very easily score higher grades and have better opportunities to join top universities, compared to others who only rely on themselves and study hard but score lower?
How can we possibly trust those who earned high scores by cheating and fraud to become officials whom we trust in leading or sovereign or security positions?
Although some harsh comments by MPs were not justified, the discussion between the minister of education and members of parliament’s education committee revealed the lack of societal understanding of the concept of cheating.
Although the minister talked about the measures taken and his contacts with other bodies and ministries to control cyber cheating, he concluded it was impossible to completely eliminate this phenomenon. It is a technical development and not many teachers and exam monitors know the nature and form of modern gadgets used by cheating students. These types of crimes are advancing at a quicker pace than the means to combat them. There are incredibly rapid advances in communication technology and some use this to further cybercrime.
In Egypt, we are ignorant of these advances as they occur, which leaves them almost always to the advantage of the corrupt and cheaters. The cost of jamming communication signals at exam locations everywhere in the country, namely 1,581 sites, is unaffordable, but there are simple measures that can be immediately taken to curb this phenomenon until there is technology to entirely eliminate it in the coming years.
Measures include prohibiting and criminalising the presence of any cell phones on students; stiffer penalties against students who carry any transmitter or receiver equipment by preventing them from taking high school exams for 10 years; hefty fines for their parents to be paid to the schooling renovation fund; imprisonment for no less than five years for grave offences while exam monitors who allow cheating or cell phones should be suspended for six months and held back from promotion for at least five years.
Some may feel that stiffer penalties are not beneficial, but right now it is the best immediate measure. As the saying goes, for those who are not deterred by gentle persuasion there is no escape from the stick. And in our case, we need a very heavy stick.
I also believe that the minister of education’s request to suspend Internet or Facebook services during exams is a very rational request. Anything that benefits society and its stability is constitutional — not otherwise as some have claimed.
Constitutions are drawn up to protect the country and citizens and provide them with a cohesive way of life based on discipline.
Therefore, the duty of MPs is to work hard on drafting laws that assist the Ministry of Education and society to confront this phenomenon, and allow the ministry to partner with others to take technical measures to prevent cheating via the Internet.
The security of society takes priority over superficial claims of unconstitutionality about blocking the Internet during exams, which is no longer than three hours a day for two weeks. This interpretation read in reverse means that cheating using electronic gadgets has constitutional immunity, which is a calamity.
In a nutshell, we have ended up here because our country needs a new way of thinking, outside the box.