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Crackdown on Question Paper Leaks. The Why and How of Secure Examination Delivery

Crackdown on Question Paper Leaks. The Why and How of Secure Examination Delivery

Crackdown on Question Paper Leaks. The Why and How of Secure Examination Delivery

Date: 24/12/2019 | Posted by: Manjunath K P, Head – Education Vertical | Category: General


Beautiful landscape, modern campus and state-of-the-art infrastructure could not save a premium university when its examination papers were leaked on WhatsApp. The university had to immediately stop the examination across 135 of its affiliated colleges. This not only maligned its reputation, but also caused great inconvenience to the students. In further awkwardness and bolt to all and sundry, the university had to reschedule the entire logistics impacting thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and invigilators.

At the end of this giant mess, the university or law agency could not establish much trail of the leak. No one could specifically ascertain what led to the leakage or how the question papers were accessed or distributed! The university examination was crucial for students hoping to secure a graduate degree under various streams. Though the university replaced the question paper with a new version at a later date, understandably, there was widespread anger and frustration due to the leakage of the question paper. No one likes re-examination and a late session completion.      

Recurring leakage…making a mockery of the traditional education system

This breach is just one example of what we may call an endless spree of heists in the education space. So much so, now newspapers have exclusive sections around ‘exam leaks.’ Every day, we wake up to reports of such horror stories. Authorities are extremely concerned. There is much at stake - brand’s equity, students’ future, and even the country’s future too. When we have such glaring skill gap1 to deal with, can we really afford to let loose undeserving, underprepared students to the workforce? Aren’t we doing a disservice to the deserving? Isn’t a strong and secure education ecosystem key to our nation’s development?

The industry wants to address such vulnerabilities that allow question papers to be stolen and rapidly distributed through different mediums. Managements have vowed to strengthen alternate security measures to counter these vulnerabilities. There are reports of state governments installing security cameras2, engaging crime branch and criminal investigation departments3. In 2016, the University Grants Commission (UGC), a Government of India statutory body directed central universities with a new policy to install jammers around the college premises4, “for the purpose of combatting the menace of unfair means used during the conduct of the examination in universities and colleges.” Though all these measures worked to some extent in isolation, a holistic, 360-degree solution was required to bring in the much-desired clarity and authenticity to make our education ecosystem leakproof.

Bringing it all: Transparency, security, surveillance and intelligence

From education ministry5 to educationists, from universities and industries; powerful voices from politics6, corporate7 and academia are recognizing the need to adopt policy of transparency in examination system. It is apparent that the current system is in shambles! Investigations are repeatedly revealing how nexus of officials from academia to treasury to administration are compromising the examination system.

With an objective to breathe new life into the burgeoning menace and the nexus around it, MeritTrac envisioned a water-tight solution many years ago. To enable transparency, enhance security and encrypt question papers, it launched Just-in-Time Question Papers (JIT-QP), a futuristic solution to usher in a complete overhaul in the examination system.   

A sledgehammer to crack the nut, JIT-QP reduces delivery vulnerabilities and restricts access so that only the Controller of Examination can select officials as per defined or altered mandate. Industry hailed it, administrators breathed sigh of relief. The solution which goes through regular R&D upgrades keeping future challenges in mind is now an industry pioneer and undisputed leader by a distance.

Preventing question paper leak, enabling authenticity

JIT-QP makes question paper leak-proof until two hours prior to the examination. However, even if there is a leak or break-in after the window to download is open, the system would enable an easy traceability footprint due to each center question papers being watermarked and different from each other. The watermark has an individual center’s code embossed for localization.

Over a period of time, MeritTrac has developed certain procedures and methodologies to build a large question bank with the help of experienced team of specific domain experts. Commenting on this development Ambrish Sinha, CEO, MeritTrac said, “For example, if the questions paper is required to have 100 questions, then we will have a bank of 1,000 questions. We have our own platform where we generate questions papers based on the institution's requirement or format. While the third-party prints the question papers, only a select few are allowed inside the printing press. Mobiles are not permitted inside the printing room either. Only the MeritTrac team facilitates this process."

Question papers are printed under strict surveillance as per class and seat allocation in secure printing centers using high speed printers.

This was a standard procedure for paper-based examinations. Like the paper-based exams, the computer-based exams also have certain security measures that MeritTrac follows. "Here, the question paper is generated only a few hours before the exams. Then, it is pushed to the central server which is later pushed to the local server where the exams are conducted. Even then, the question paper will not get activated immediately. It will get activated only 10 minutes before the exams start. The technology is such that not all computers can read the format of question papers. Only a few computers that are encrypted and synced with MeritTrac's system can read the format of our question papers. Post examination, the answer scripts are again encrypted and this then reaches the central server for assessment," explains Sinha.

Orisha adopts and shows the way

MeritTrac has been working with many central and state governments, educational institutions and corporate companies to conduct exams. However, when one special appreciation comes directly from the honorable Chief Minister of Odisha, it made every one of us happy.

For better transparency in the educational system, the Government of Odisha has recently introduced the online question paper delivery for Polytechnics. Sri Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha, announced it on Twitter

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Subrat Mohanty, Group President, Manipal Education & Medical Group, said, “The Government of Odisha has taken a significant step in ensuring transparency in the education sector by introducing online question paper delivery for polytechnics. Manipal Group is privileged to partner with the Odisha Government to offer cutting-edge technology solutions that are transforming the way question papers are delivered. Our suite of products on Examination management and university management has enabled ‘leak-proof’ examinations and online question papers delivered to more than 10 Lakh students.”

An early adopter of technology-enabled education, the Government of Odisha, has had a profound impact on the way online question papers are delivered. MeritTrac Services Pvt. Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Manipal Global Education Services (MaGE), is the service provider for delivering the Just-in-Time Question Paper (JIT-QP) to secure question paper delivery and restrain leaks in examinations.

Introduced for the first time, this technology empowered the universities and colleges in Odisha to tackle issues regarding the delivery of question papers. Every set of question paper carries watermark of the downloading institution. This technology has enabled the university to deliver the question papers smoothly and with zero leakages during examinations.

Ambrish Sinha, CEO, MeritTrac Services sums it up, “In the education sector, the importance of technology and digital platforms is continuously increasing and plays a crucial role in the conduct and administration of examinations. MeritTrac appreciates this opportunity to associate with the Government of Odisha in its move to bring transparency in the education sector. The acknowledgement received by the Government is testimony to maintain our responsibility of securely-delivering question papers with no leaks.”

References:

  • ResearchGate, JNU. Estimating India's skill gap on a realistic basis for 2022. Available at www.researchgate.net
  • India Today. CBSE 2018: Government suggest measures to avoid paper leak in future. Available at www.indiatoday.in
  • Deccan Herald. PU Board to employ tech to prevent exam paper leaks. Available at www.deccanherald.com
  • UGC. Jammer Policy in Universities and Colleges. Available at ugc.ac.in
  • The Hindu Business Line. CBSE paper leak issue ‘unfortunate’: Prakash Javadekar. Available at www.thehindubusinessline.com
  • The Telegraph. Naveen tough talk on leak - Assembly erupts over police exam. Available at www.telegraphindia.com
  • The Economic Times. SC for panel having Nandan Nilekani to suggest reforms for holding competitive exams. Available at economictimes.indiatimes.com