University exam cheats expose a raft of problems: The Nation Columnist

In its editorial on May 12, the newspaper says the recent exam cheating at Rangsit University highlights the need to discourage cheating among the young.

Stopping the practice at a young age is essential if Thailand's systemic corruption is to be curbed.

The discovery this week of cheating taking place during entrance examinations for medical faculties at privately run Rangsit University should serve as a wake-up call for Thailand's educators - and also the general public.

Cheating, both attempted and successful, has often been reported in connection with different exams for administrative jobs and even teaching positions, but the practice is rare in university entrance exams, especially those for medical faculties.

In response to the fraud last weekend, Rangsit University cancelled all medicine, pharmacy and dentistry admission tests. Applicants had been exposed cheating via smartwatches and wireless cameras concealed in eyeglasses. The school is pursuing legal action against at least five people.

 

The elaborate scam involved proxies, allegedly hired by a tutorial school, filming the exam papers with the cameras hidden in their glasses. The testing period was three hours, but they left the premises after 45 minutes and reportedly transmitted the questions to another team waiting outside, which passed them on to students still in the exam room via smartwatches.

The students who wanted to enter the university's medical department were required to pay the tutorial school in question 800,000 baht (S$31,000) each to get them past the exam. But how can high school graduates afford that much? Their parents should be asked whether they knew their children would be involved in the scam - and how their children could obtain so much money.

If they had not been caught cheating on their exams, the cheats might eventually have become doctors, dentists and pharmacists. There is no way of knowing how many cheats have been successful in securing university seats this way and then continued on until graduating.

Society loses if people's welfare and lives come under the care of dishonest medical practitioners. How can we trust a doctor, dentist or pharmacist who cheated his or her way to graduation? They might well continue their dishonest behaviour after becoming professionals. And that is not good news for their patients or clients.

Tougher anti-cheating measures for future entrance exams may be a way to prevent more incidents like the Rangsit scam. Mahidol University rector Professor Udom Kachintorn, in his capacity as head of the Council of University Presidents of Thailand, said recently he would raise the matter at the next meeting of the council. He said that entrance exams involving medical faculties normally are subject to strict measures to prevent cheating, but the latest case indicates that tougher measures are needed.

In addition to tougher measures to prevent cheating in entrance exams at all universities, both state-run and privately run, the authorities involved may need to test applicants' knowledge in more ways than having them sit exams. Applicants should also be interviewed by faculty members to determine that they really have the knowledge required. Such interviews might help screen out unqualified applicants.

The applicants allegedly involved in the cheating have been blacklisted by Rangsit University, but it remains unclear whether criminal action can be taken against those involved, including the tutorial school.

Police have not yet pressed charges against any suspects in the much-publicised case since legal experts say criminal action cannot be taken against exam cheats, although there is room for civil action with the university cast as the damaged party.

National police chief General Chakthip Chaijinda has instructed the relevant agencies to determine whether the use of hi-tech gadgets in the cheating violated any law. A senior official of the Office of the Private Education Commission said the tutorial school implicated was not registered with the agency and thus had no authority to act against the school, even if it is found guilty.

Maybe we do need a law making it illegal to cheat in entrance exams. It is essential that we discourage cheating at a young age if we want to curb corruption and protect society from cheating professionals.