Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Mobile Phones used to cheat in exams - A real news story?

A couple of days ago an interesting story broke in the Japanese news.  Apparently a student taking university entrance exams had posted questions online during the actual exams, seeking and receiving answers about specific test questions.  The only way he could have done this is by texting emails from his desk during the exam, an extraordinary act to perform and get away with.  And not just once; there were four places involved, including the prestigious Kyoto and Waseda universities.

I was intrigued because it seemed to be an actual, genuine news story.  Someting interesting was happening, a novel event compared to the usual headlines of 'Prime Minister in trouble' or 'Politician in Money Scandal' or, I kid you not, 'Snow in Winter'.

The reaction of the Japanese media and educational establishment has been shock and dismay.  A raft of anti-cheating measures are being implemented or considered: exams are now being held in smaller classrooms and invigilators are being trained to be extra vigilant; mobile phones are now placed in special envelopes and kept by staff during exams; and companies that provide equipment that can block mobile transmissions are being contacted.  Footage of South Korean exams with metal detectors at the doors is being aired and the possibility of something similar being introduced is being discussed.  In addition, at one university all 4,898 "English literature" exams are being examined to see if specific answers are worded exactly as the answers posted on the web.  All in all, a huge amount of stress is being created and money wasted.

It took one of my students to let me know what isn't being reported on the news.  What you can see if you actually go to the site in question.  The student who posted during the exams, who posts under the handle 'aicezuki', did not only ask questions about mathematics and English.  Before the exams Aicezuki posted other questions.  He asked for information about mental health hospitals or clinics.  He also said that he wanted help to committ suicide.  It seems that English literature is not this guy's biggest problem.  My student was also of the opinion that, given the number and length of questions posted, together with the probable difficulty of doing so without being seen, online access would have been more trouble than help during the exam, taking up too much time to actually be useful.  My student expressed the idea that Aicezuki's online postings were not intended to help him through the exam, but were instead attempt to gain attention? A cry for help? A gesture of defiance?  A giant 'Fuck You!' to society?  Something not exam related, anyway.

It is telling that none of this has been reported by the Japanese media; the reality of the situation, that this is about one student with mental health problems, has not been addressed at all.  Instead we have this hysterical overreaction and these draconian countermeasures.  Cheating will not actually be prevented, because no real cheating has been taking place.  Instead, this scandal will just create strife and pain where none is necessary.  But that's okay, as seemingly the very goal of Japanese society is to make life difficult for its members.  So, essentially, this is not a real or new news story after all.  Just the Japanese being predictably nasty to each other.  Nothing new here, move along folks. 

As to how Aicezuki feels about the media frenzy he has created, whether he is aghast or delighted at the consequences of his actions, it is difficult to say.  Perhaps he is consumed with shame and shock; or perhaps he views his actions as testament that the individual can still make a difference in society.  I get the feeling we may find out, as it looks likely that they will track him down.  For punishment they may just jail him.

Or if they're feeling particularly vindictive they may make him sit the exams again.

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