CAIRO—The online disclosure of college admittance high-school exams has led to nationwide disruptions in Egypt and Algeria. Despite vows by authorities to make sure tests are secure, exam questions have been leaked prior to exam administration in both countries for several years.
An October decree by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called for prison sentences for unauthorized disclosure of testing materials. But that decrees has failed to deter a cluster of Facebook groups that have leaked exam questions.
Egypt’s ministry of education canceled the religion portion of the national secondary certificate—known as the Thanaweya Amma in Egypt—on Sunday just 40 minutes before it was scheduled to take place.
The exam has been rescheduled for June 29.
“The administrators cancelled the religion test because they knew it was leaked beforehand but (because the) Arabic exam was leaked 15 minutes after the start time they were unable to stop it,” said Khaled Kamal, a 17-year-old student from Cairo. In this case, the website leaked the answers to the questions, and students who could sneak smartphones into the exam room were able to cheat on the test.
“The Facebook pages offer the answers for free, which is better than buying answers from a teacher for 100 Egyptian pounds,” said Kamal.
The site responsible for the leak is called the “Chao Ming leaks Thanaweya Amma, exams.” It is also responsible for divulging similar exam information over the last four years—as of Tuesday evening it was still operational on Facebook with more than 400,000 likes.
Education officials estimate that about 560,000 students are enrolled for this year’s test.
Earlier in the month, the administrator of the Chao Ming page posted a manifesto demanding reforms to Egypt’s educational system.
“I will disappear when I reach my goal: to give teachers their rights and privileges, to replace the current university placement system linking enrollment solely to Thanaweya results, and to update both the general curriculum and test preparation materials to a digital format,” declared the anonymous administrator.
Local media have speculated that the leaks represent collusion between disgruntled officials at the ministry of education and “digital disrupters” with roots in the online activist community that sparked the 2011 revolution.
On Tuesday the interior ministry announced it had arrested two men in their thirties and was holding a nineteen-year-old in custody for administering the offending websites.
Those arrests came after 12 ministry employees were arrested on Monday for “willful damage to the interest of the institution they work for, and of leaking the exams” just hours after a parliamentary committee summoned the education minister, Helaly el-Sherbiny for an emergency inquiry.
“It’s clear that despite statements about test security, a small group of cheaters with mobile phones is disrupting the entire system,” said Hosny Hafez, Wafd Party MP who represents Alexandria.
“El-Sherbiny needs to resign,” said Hafez as scores of students and parents demonstrated against the compromised matriculation exam system outside the headquarters of the education ministry.
Algeria’s education minister is also under fire after security breaches similar to those in Egypt will force more than 300,000 students to retake their baccalaureate test.
The state-run APS news agency said police had arrested scores of suspects believed to have published exam material on social networks along with ministry officials who facilitated the leak.
“These leakers tried to hit our efforts at curriculum reform,” said the teary-eyed Minister of Education Nouria Benghabrit as she announced the rescheduling of the baccalaureate at a press conference on Monday.
Prior to the test, Algerian officials said they intended to employ thousands of extra guards and advanced jamming devices to supervise high school exams and prevent students from cheating.
Last year’s baccalaureate was compromised when students used their smartphones to photograph questions and “crowdsource” answers from peers on social networking sites.
Test security issues have only added to Benghabrit’s political woes.
She has been caught up in debates over the balance between French, Arabic and the diverse Algerian dialects used in classroom instruction as well as the scope of mandatory religious courses in state schools. (See related story: In Algeria the Berber Language Can’t Get an Educational Foothold.)
Last year the minister was criticized by Islamists for speaking in the colloquial Algerian dialect instead of standard Arabic and has been frequently characterized as promoting a “Westernization scheme” for the national curriculum.
“Benghabrit’s opponents started a rumor that she wanted Islamic education to be removed from the curriculum,” said Abdelhak Smara, who obtained a master’s degree in English from Oran University in 2014 but then decided against taking additional pedagogy courses.
“The corruption and politics surrounding education in Algeria made me decide not pursue a teaching career,” said Smara who instead opted to open an Internet café in his hometown of Ain el Turck.