Out of 800,000 Algerian students who sat for the International Baccalaureate final exams earlier this month, more than 500,000 must re-take the exams after exam questions were leaked widely on the Internet.
Questions from seven exams in all were published on Facebook and other major social media networks well ahead of the exams’ scheduled time. Algerian police say they are proceeding with investigations into the leak, which they believe happened in at least 30 regions across the nation. Cybercrime investigators are focused on identifying individuals who published exam material on the internet and those who facilitated the leak. Already, 31 education officials – managers, teachers, and heads of national exam centres – have been arrested as suspects.
Algerian high school students are required to pass the “almighty” International Baccalaureate exam before they can be admitted into universities or colleges. Since a university degree is considered a ticket for entry into middle-class society, many students, parents, and even teachers often feel pressured to perform remarkably well despite a noticeable fall in most countries’ education standards. The result? Examination malpractice has become quite widespread across Africa. Such regular attempts to undermine the integrity of exams threaten the overall credibility of Africa’s certificates and educational assessments.
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As the half-million affected students re-take their tests this week, Algerian authorities have apparently taken sweeping – some say excessive – steps to gain control over what may be considered a national embarrassment. From June 19 to June 23, government has blocked all access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Viber, Google, and other social media networks.
The blockage is, of course, affecting more than just the target student population. A spokesperson for the Algerian Ministry of Post, Information, Technology, and Communication has denied any limits or suspension of internet services; however, social media and internet users in Algeria have complained of serious difficulties accessing the internet with some even asking to be compensated.
Other Algerians have sidestepped the social media impasse entirely by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which can mask a user’s IP address and make it seem like they are connecting from another part of the world.
Many observers insist that the Algerian government could have spared everyone the needless headache had it maintained effective controls over the exam materials.