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Connected for exams
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 23 - 05 - 2019

On 19 May, the final exams of grade 10 students kicked off across the country, with 650,000 students sitting for their Arabic exams followed by biology and French and using the new computerised exams system.
The exams are scheduled to finish on 30 May, and under the new system students take exams online using tablets and SIM cards provided by the Ministry of Education.
With nationwide complaints about difficulties in accessing the electronic exams platform, some schools have resorted to the distribution of paper versions of the exams, however.
On the first day of the exams, the Ministry of Education said the problem was due to a technical error which had been fixed and would be avoided in the following days.
However, the server “was very slow” when Mariam Ihab, a student from Aswan, was logging in to the exams platform to take her Arabic exam. “While I was answering the exam, the system logged me out. I had to restart on a tablet and then re-log in. This took time that was deducted from the exam time,” she complained.
Ihab said the exam system was also not fair as there were different versions of the exams. “Each of us has his or her own exam code we use to log on to the exam platform and find our exams. We had different exams even though we were taking the exam in the same subject and at the same time.”
“My exam was much more difficult than those given to my classmates,” she said.
The exams are being held over two periods, with the morning one including students at public schools, prisons and hospitals, and the second one including students at private schools.
Parents and students in several governorates have conducted demonstrations against the new electronic exams. Some students in the Aswan and Giza governorates were arrested for protesting and chanting slogans against them.
Abdel-Rahman Al-Etrebi, a grade 10 student, complained that he could not log on to the exam platform for more than 45 minutes. “I complained to the invigilator, and he kept telling me to restart the tablet. In the end, I had to report the incident, and the school turned the exam into paper-based exam. The new system is a failure, and the old one was much better,” he said.
Salma Hussein is another student whom the system logged out, and then she could not re-log in. “I was in the middle of my exam when suddenly the tablet's screen turned black and I found myself logged out of the platform. I kept trying to re-log in for about 25 minutes but could not do so. I reported the incident, but the school refused to let me take the paper exam,” Hussein said, adding that she was not sure she would pass the exam.
Mervat Wahish, a teacher and parent to a grade 10 student, said the new system was a failure. “The ministry is saying that this year's grades are not going to be calculated among the students' final grades for the Thanaweya Amma [the school-leaving exam], so as not to affect their overall grades. But what about next year and the year after that?”
“The system is not performing well, and our children are the ones who are paying the price,” Wahish complained, adding that many students had not started their exams on time due to pressures on the system.
Wahish believes that the servers need to be enhanced so as not to fail so frequently, causing anxiety and worry to students and their parents. “The ministry should provide each school with a technician to provide technical support and solve any technical problems that occur while students are taking their exams,” she said.
Rania Tarek, the mother of grade 10 twins, said that “things were getting better on the second and third days of the exams. The technical problems were less, and the ministry informed the schools that all those who had experienced problems and reported them would pass the exams,” she said.
The Ministry of Education issued a press release announcing the success of the new electronic system despite the technical problems that had occurred. According to Mahmoud Hassouna, media coordinator at the ministry, the electronic exam system has shown its success, as more than 450,000 students took their exams electronically.
The rest took paper exams either because their schools were not yet electronically equipped or due to technical problems.
Hassouna said that any student who failed to log on to the exams platform was given paper exams to save time. Students who faced technical problems during or at the end of the exam would pass, she said.
“There is a backup system on the server that allows officials to know what happened in each case. There is no need for either parents or students to worry, as they will pass the exams,” Hassouna said.
According to Hassouna, the ministry did not receive mass complaints that would dub the new system a failure. “Most of the complaints were individual ones and were solved after reporting the problem,” she said, denying that there had been leaks of subjects before the exams took place.

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