Supreme Court sets up committee to suggest exam reforms

How to prevent cheating in competitive examinations

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Supreme Court

On Thursday [10 January 2019], the Supreme Court of India suggested the setting up of a three-member committee led by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani and computer scientist Vijay Bhatkar to suggest reforms for conducting competitive examinations fairly by government bodies. The top court said it would not vacate the stay on the declaration of the results of the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) combined graduate level (CGL) and combined higher secondary level (CHSL) examinations held in 2017, in which lakhs of students had appeared.

The counsel appearing for the CBI, which is investigating the question paper leak, said that an FIR has been registered and suspects identified and therefore there was no need to cancel the 2017 examination. At the time, the apparent leak of the SSC-CGL 2017 examination papers led to protests from job seekers for several days and the SSC recommended a CBI probe of the exam leak allegations.

The Supreme Court bench of Justices SA Bobde and Deepak Gupta said yesterday that the three-member high powered committee would suggest reforms to government bodies, which conduct competitive examinations like the SSC, as there are several cases of question paper leaks. Further, the bench posted the matter for hearing on January 17 and asked advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for the petitioner, to suggest a name besides Nilekani and Bhatkar for constituting the panel. Bhushan said he would suggest a name by next week.

Our view

Since the country is rife with cheating incidents every year in both school and competitive examinations for employment, and the courts are openly saying that the entire system including testing is ‘tainted,’ it is perhaps appropriate that they are looking at technology to help solve or alleviate the problem. Solutions are of course available, although apart from the willpower to implement them, they require the creation of a secure education and testing ecosystem that on the one hand educates and prepares students and candidates, and on the other makes its impossible to cheat using digital printing technology to produce unique question papers for each student. Security technology can easily monitor the examination process as well.

Case study – Meteksan Digital and Teknolist

We reprint below a case study that I wrote and published in 2016. It describes an education and exam system developed by Teknolist and Meteksan Digital in Ankara, Turkey that uses digital technology for both creating study materials and for the examination process. While there is no reaction thus far from Nilekani or Bhatkar on the court’s suggestion, it may be quite easy for the proposed high-powered committee to learn from, adapt and implement some of these ideas and technologies.

Pioneers in Education

Meteksan’s use of technology shows how an entire country-wide school examination system can administered with great efficiency and absolute integrity. Founded in 1969, the Ankara-based Meteksan is a pioneer in the field of digital printing with more than 35 years of experience in the domain of educational printing in Turkey.

The company moved from offset printing of examination booklets to become the major supplier of an open and interactive system of teaching and testing 10 million students across the country by collaborating with the government. Each printed examination booklet, identified by a unique id, has a different order of questions and answer choices. The answer sheet is also personalised and includes information about the students as well as their picture.

Every page of every booklet is checked by the Hunkeler Web Inspection and tracking system. The 40 million examination booklets containing 600 million A4 pages are shrink-wrapped, labelled, checked using barcodes and put into patented boxes for shipment to 100,000 classrooms across the country using GPS secured trucks. To ensure the integrity and security of the entire closed loop network, all the examination classrooms have a wall clock with a built-in camera.

Meteksan builds its production of educational materials and secure examinations around digital inkjet printing from Canon and with inspection, tracking and paper finishing technology from Hunkeler. In its totally secure plant it runs seven lines of web-fed digital presses alongside two lines of integrated scanning and finishing modules that generally output folded and bound examination booklets.

The Canon Océ CS3500 Twin System, the Canon Océ JetStream 2200 and a Canon Océ JetStream 1000 are part of inline configurations that contain Hunkeler infeeds, web inspection and tracking systems, buffers, cutter and drum collators from Hunkeler and folders from Heidelberg.

However, the flexibility and dynamism of the workflows comes from the seven Hunkeler online finishing configurations that can accept printed webs from the print engines. All these lines have Hunkeler modules for web drying, cutting, with drum collating and integrated gluing also from Hunkeler and a Heidelberg folder that is used to produce glued examination brochures and booklets.

Altogether Meteksan handles 12 petabytes of data each year. After personalization and formatting, the print operation is driven by Advanced Function Files (AFP) that are compact and fast to RIP. The front end software is able to talk to the Hunkeler WI6 Web Inspection System and Tracking System that validates every single page and assigns the appropriate finishing steps for it, to the collating, binding and insertion modules. Meteksan’s Alper Çifçi, Digital Printing Group manager of Meteksan Digital, says that for avoiding errors it is essential to have complete inline control systems. He describes Hunkeler’s control system and software for tracking as robust. “It’s binary, precise, reliable and straightforward. Considering the company’s annual output of 600 million A4 pages, we have 6 errors per billion pages thanks to the tracking system,” he says.

An example of software, automation and collaboration with Teknolist

The key to success in high volume digital printing is to find a communication challenge with a significant personalization and security component and then to creatively address it with a combination of software and inline automation. To take on such a challenge profitably, it helps greatly to collaborate with specialists and one of Meteksan’s collaboration is with publisher Teknolist, a leader in the domain of educational printing and software that has been part and parcel of their mutual success. Both companies take smart publishing to the next level by offering tailored educational material and secure examinations printed for classrooms using software and cloud based solutions. Each printed document is enabled by a software driven workflow that intelligently puts together components contained in a database as well as PDF elements.

Alper Çifçi, Digital Printing Group Manager of Meteksan Digital. There is much to learn from this Turkish company for digital printers looking at the opportunities in the education sector.
Alper Çifçi, Digital Printing Group Manager of Meteksan Digital. There is much to learn from this Turkish company for digital printers looking at the opportunities in the education sector.

The imposition, assembly, finishing and logistics of each personalized educational material or examination booklet is enabled by the machine readable printed marks on each page and the application of security features to the finished product. “Meteksan’s challenge in achieving this integration and dynamic flexibility was to find a solution which would handle a wide variety of data and formats automatically, and fit within our business model from ordering to delivery,” says Çifçi.

Çifçi adds that the entire operation has to be reliable and redundant. “It’s mission critical – we print within one day of receiving an order and we deliver within three days. Apart from the continuous investment in software and hardware, the company’s in-house technicians are trained by Océ and Hunkeler. Our technicians in Ankara, Oce’s technicians in Poing and Hunkeler’s in Wikon are able to communicate and work together seamlessly as if under one roof,” he says.

Thus the production of digitally printed personalised books for educational purposes or to perform safe exams for schools, classrooms or subjects is highly collaborative but completely automated and secure. Furthermore by eliminating communication errors it becomes efficient. In Teknolist’s example both companies continuously invest in intelligent and automated workflows that leverage their expertise in tailored and intuitive educational material as well as the periodic and secure examination system that drives the entire system forward.

Educational assessment and evaluation of student progress are carried out by web-based tools and the plan is to extend these tools to analyse both achievement and deficiencies. These in turn can be used to automatically select and develop customized content for both students and teachers.

Meteksan is ready to provide digital printed solutions for ever more innovative and smart publishing products and secure examination solutions using its print, nishing and logistics on-demand workflow. Alper Çifçi says, “Meteksan, together with partners like Teknolist, Hunkeler and Canon, has the right tools to comfortably enter a new era of our educational market with the confidence that we have the ability to succeed, and deliver a new and exciting service to our own customers in the future.”