Algeria Blocks Social Media In Effort To Beat Exam Cheats

Algeria has taken some serious precautions to keep college-bound students honest. According to the BBC, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were blocked to stop would-be cheaters from posting high school exam papers online. This surprising turn of events was initially reported by Algeria’s state media.

The extreme measure came nearly a week after Algerian Education Minister Nouria Benghebrit tearfully announced crucial exam documents had been leaked online. High school students in Algeria are required to pass these exams in order to advance to higher learning. Benghebrit regretfully announced that due to the leaks, 300,000 of the 800,000 students who sat for the “baccalaureate” would have to be retested.

The re-test was scheduled for June 19, and to make sure no student was tempted, social media was blocked nationwide. Yahoo Finance, quoting Reuters, said access to the internet through the 3G mobile network was allegedly disrupted on Sunday.

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News that blocks are temporarily in place to prevent cheating is just the latest event tied to the leak scandal. Yahoo Finance/Reuters and Al Fanar Media reported that earlier this month, authorities in Algeria and Egypt arrested dozens of people in connection with the leak.

From Reuters:

“Earlier this month, authorities said police arrested dozens of people, including officials working in national education offices and printers, as part of an investigation into how parts of the 2016 high school exams were leaked onto social media.”

Interestingly, Egyptian and Algerian authorities don’t agree when it comes to the alleged source(s) of the social media leak. In fact, despite numerous vows by authorities to protect the integrity of exam information, this is but the latest in several leaks over the past few years.

Al Fanar‘s sources claim the social media leaks “represent collusion between disgruntled officials within the ministry of education and “digital disruptors.” These so-called disruptors are said to have connections within the same online activist community largely responsible for the 2011 revolution.

However, Middle East Eye reports that “Ahmed Ouyahia, who heads the office of the president,” was a bit more specific about the purpose of the scandal. Ouyahia thinks the leak is meant to be an embarrassment to Benghebrit. Nouria, who is a trained sociologist, was appointed to her position in 2014. The education minister has since ruffled feathers among Algeria’s conservative members of government with her repeated calls for education reform.

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As the fallout from the scandal continues, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal has vowed to punish everyone connected to the leak. The police unit behind the ongoing investigation said they’ve looked into 30 Algerian departments.

According to a police statement that appeared on the APS news agency, cyber-crime investigators had already identified specific individuals behind posting exam documents to social networks. They were also aware of those who didn’t post themselves, but reportedly helped “facilitate the leak.” Thus far, those detained include “managers, teachers, and even heads of national exam centers.”

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It’s an unfortunate situation, but one sort of understands why authorities in Algeria were so desperate to stop cheaters and moved to block social media. This test is hugely important, and for the sake of fairness, it’s hoped that no social media would inspire students to actually study and avoid being tempted to do something wrong. Of course, others might feel students are getting doubly punished by the lack of social media — especially if they didn’t actually cheat the first time.

Having said that, social media and certain person-to-person websites have made it remarkably easy to leak test documents. Earlier this year, there was a similar scandal in Asia involving leaked SAT exams. The Wall Street Journal reported that the cheating situation was so severe, it led to SAT cancellations in China and Macau.

Some might view that reaction to be even more extreme than what happened in Algeria. Although social media blocks were put in place, at least students were given the chance to re-sit for the test rather than have their tests thrown out altogether.

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Cheating is not new, but social media’s indirect complicity in cheating is. What can be done to keep students from using the internet to cheat on exams? Share your input below!

[Photo illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]