'Proxy examinees' make sizable income during tests

2015-01-06

Ekantipur

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The Bachelors-level examinations under Tribhuvan University are under way. Soni Singh (name changed) has to sit for two back papers this month. It has been more than three years since she was enrolled in a Bachelor’s programme, but is still unable to earn the degree. Frustrated, she reached out to a person willing to sit for her exams in return for a charge of Rs 5,000 per paper.

“There are a lot of them. I knew about them during my first year,” Singh says.

Then, Singh had been done with her exam an hour early. Right outside, a young man was lying down on a bench. As soon as he saw her, he asked her if the exam was over. She said no, she just was done early. Later, after she joined him on the bench while waiting for her friend to come out of the exam room, the man opened up to her. He was in fact one of the examinees but someone else was writing answers for him. It was not all that difficult, he said. All one had to do was change the picture on the admit card.

No one enrolled at TU is surprised by the fact that hundreds of proxy examinees make a sizeable income during the exam seasons. What is surprising is how this has been going on for decades and the University authorities are unable to check this blatant disregard for morals and ethics.

Dambar Sharma (name changed) once sat for an exam for his close friend. The friend had already failed the Intermediate-level English exams twice. When the friend would not stop entreating Sharma for a favour, the latter consented.

“I felt like a hero in a 3-hour movie who was paid Rs 5,000 to be someone else. Went to a disco and spent it all,” Sharma says.

But he regrets it. “I feel bad for my friend. He will never forget that the certificate he earned was not on his own merit. It must be onerous to live with the knowledge like that,” Sharma says.

Both Singh and Sharma, however, do not blame the exam candidates or their proxies. They find the proxy examinee syndrome ethically repulsive, but they deem it just another symptom of a diseased education system. Students enrolled at TU-affiliated campuses are notorious for never showing up for classes.

Teachers are equally notorious for engaging in politics rather than teaching. Exam centres are always riddled with irregularities, from cheat sheets to invigilators turning blind eyes to copy-pasting. Even teachers write Master’s theses for their students.

“There is no value in education. Whether you get the certificate through hard work or deception, unemployment is rife. Even if you have a genuine degree, you have to bribe for jobs afterwards. Might as well make thousands of rupees helping someone pass an exam,” says Sharma. According to educationist Vidyanath Koirala, there are hundreds of proxy examinees, backed and protected by student political unions. In fact, it has been reported that most of the students who hire talented students as proxies are those involved in student politics.

Depending on the higher education level and on the paper, a substitute candidate can make Rs 5,000 to 30,000 per paper. English papers fetch the highest sum.

“We need to publicly humiliate these cheats. All we do is expel and that too if they are caught. Catching them is extremely tough as most have political support,” Koirala says.

Ideally, says the expert, TU must have a system where teachers grade the students they teach. “But teachers grade haphazardly. The result is a mass exam session where the invigilators do not know the examinees in person. Peering through an admit card is the only way to identify an examinee but that piece of paper can be easily fiddled with,” says Koirala.

The University Grants Commission is currently working on a higher education policy. One of the policy drafters, Koirala says the policy does not go into nitty-gritty details on how to eliminate such deceptive practices. “But the policy is concerned about instilling a sense of morality in students,” he says.

Note: This article was initially published in The Kathmandu Post on July 30, 2014