THE standard operating procedure (SOP) for the handling of examination papers is being reviewed by the Education Ministry to try and stem leaks, like that of the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) Science and English papers recently, which circulated on social media. The immediate reaction by the ministry was to suspend the head of the Examination Board and her deputy. And now, several individuals, including teachers, have been remanded by the police and their mobile phones confiscated. A photo of the papers, with the ministry’s logo clearly visible, meant that a crime had been perpetrated.
This raises the question of the restrictive nature of the crime, which according to some quarters, needs a wider redefinition. Currently, for as long as there is no direct evidence — for example, a retyped version cannot legally be considered a leak — police action is not possible, which has meant that in the past, possible leaks occurred but plugging them was impossible. The assumption is that what is making the rounds could easily be questions spotted or developed by tuition centres, say. After all, coincidences do occur. However, in this instance, that there was a leak is irrefutable, which makes it a chance to impose harsh punishments for a despicable crime. Nevertheless, the most sensible remedy would be to ensure SOP that are watertight and not open to abuse.Leaked papers have been a problem, not just in Malaysia, but elsewhere, too. Consequently, computerisation has become a key component of SOPs around the world. A proposal emanating from India has suggested that once question papers are ready for printing and distribution, it can be supervised by only one person who, by default, will be blamed for any leaks. Meanwhile, the process of formulating the question papers, too, needed to be carefully secured.
While the existing SOP has been around for some time and served the country well, times have changed. In a world where information and communications technology (ICT) pervades, it is no longer appropriate to maintain manual methods, no matter how secure. But now that it has been breached, it would make sense for the ministry to avail itself of the opportunity to upgrade or even totally revamp the SOP to make it invulnerable to abuse. Towards this end, a committee of nine has been set up, headed by former chief justice Tun Zaki Azmi. The ministry responsible is taking the matter seriously and within the three months given to complete the review, stakeholders are expected to actively participate, among them, the teachers unions.
Computers used must be over a secure system where access is highly restricted; passwords used to gain entry and access will be given to only one person, where possible. Where there is need to communicate, secure networks must be used and where necessary, especially if emails cannot be avoided, messages must be encrypted. Servers used for storage of question papers must be ones dedicated for the purpose and access restricted to authorised personnel only.NST Editorial 18 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 8:12 AM