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Friday, March 4, 2011

Colleges groping for ways to fight high-tech cheating

Kyodo News

Posting questions — and receiving the answers — over the Internet for entrance exams at major universities has shaken educational and university authorities to the core.

News photo
On the prowl: A proctor monitors an entrance exam session at the University of Tokyo's Hongo campus in Bunkyo Ward last month. KYODO PHOTO

Police arrested a 19-year-old preparatory school student Thursday for allegedly posting online questions related to university entrance examinations while they were in progress last month.

As police continue investigating, the authorities are racking their brains over how to stamp out the new type of online misconduct.

Pundits meanwhile aren't even certain the questions were posted on Yahoo Japan Corp.'s question-and-answer site for the purpose of cheating.

As the scandal broke, education minister Yoshiaki Takaki on Monday stressed the need to ban cell phones from exam rooms immediately, but a senior ministry official expressed skepticism, saying, "Universities would have to set aside extra space and incur more costs if they are to confiscate cell phones during exams.

"Even such measures wouldn't ensure that the applicants don't have phones with them," the official said.

Hisashi Sonoda, an expert on Internet crime and a professor at Konan Law School, said, "Cameras have become much smaller now and there are a wide variety of communications gadgets besides cell phones."

He said universities will likely end up playing "an indefinite cat-and-mouse game."

So far, exams at four universities — Kyoto, Doshisha, Waseda and Rikkyo — have been affected by the misconduct.

Many universities instruct those taking entrance exams to turn off their cell phones or put them in their bags before the testing begins. Meiji University, for example, checks whether they are taking their phones with them when going to the lavatory.

On the other hand, there is a limit to how invasive universities can be in checking personal effects. Keio University says it finds it difficult to search pockets and Tokai University rules out frisking students.

There have been numerous cases of cheating involving university entrance exams, but posting questions online is new — as far as the authorities know.

Yahoo Japan, operator of Chiebukuro (Pearls of Wisdom), where the exam questions were posted, says the question-and-answer site had never before been misused in connection with entrance exams since its launch in 2004.

On Monday, Noriyoshi Shiraishi, senior vice president of Rikkyo University, called a news conference after learning two of its exam questions were posted on the Yahoo site in February. He expressed outrage, calling it "an act that has shaken the legitimacy of the entrance exam system to its foundations."

"Exam questions should be the top secret of a university that should never be leaked to outsiders," Shiraishi said.

Rikkyo's entrance exam questions appeared on the Yahoo site just 10 minutes after the exam began. Thoughts on the questions were traded online at intervals of up to around 10 minutes.

Naoki Ogi, a professor of clinical pedagogy at Hosei University, said universities were totally unprepared, even though it was inevitable this kind of misdeed would be committed amid the spread of online networking.

"The most important thing is that ethics on how to handle information be taught at junior high, high schools and cram schools," Ogi said.

He also proposed bold steps be introduced to thwart online misconduct, citing examples of other countries using metal detectors and disrupting airwaves to deter cheaters.

Pundits are also questioning the motives behind the questions being posted online, saying there is no guarantee that the correct answers can be obtained instantly on a website that is accessible to anybody.

"Was this an act of an applicant who was really serious about passing the exam?" asked one education ministry official. "You've got to race against time to finish an exam, so it'd be better if you figure out the answers yourself instead of spending time" getting answers online.

"As it is quite risky, people will likely do this kind of thing only among close friends," the official said.

Konan Law School's Sonoda also doubts whether the exam questions were put online for the purpose of cheating.

"Whoever did this probably was not aware this kind of conduct would constitute a crime, but did so casually as he or she just wanted to be the first to ever do it," he said.



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