Tech

A whole country just turned off its internet to stop students from cheating on exams

The Algerian government has taken a dramatic step to try and curb rampant exam cheating by repeatedly turning off the internet during the exam season.

Yes, all of the internet. For everyone. For a period of six days.

On Wednesday this week the plug was pulled for the first time as students started sitting down to their exam papers. Algerians can’t get to their memes or cat videos for blocks of an hour at a time, designed to coincide with the beginning of exams.

It is of course a big step to take – but the country has a big problem with cheats. In 2016, some 300,000 students had to retake exams after papers were leaked early on the web and circulated around social media.

Last year attempts were made to restrict access to social media platforms, but ultimately those measures weren’t effective enough – so this year the authorities are going all in. Both cell networks and broadband are getting switched off during the allotted periods.

Education Minister Nouria Benghabrit said the government wasn’t comfortable with the decision, but also added that “we should not passively stand in front of such a possible leak”, as reported by the BBC.

As this Radio Algeria tweet shows, some days have as much as three hours of downtime, so people are going to have to schedule their Netflix binge watching carefully. Those blocks stretch across the first part of each high school exam period.

We’re not sure exactly what’s stopping someone from getting a paper in advance, printing it off and committing it to memory before the internet goes dark, but we’re not about to ask – it sounds like the Algerian authorities are not to be messed with.

What the web blackouts will do is stop students using devices to look up answers in the exam hall. Phone jammers, surveillance cameras, and metal detectors have also been set up in more than 2,000 exam centres, CNN reports.

“Securing the high-school exams is very important,” Benghabrit told a news conference, reports the New York Times. “Our commitment to the principle of fairness and the principle of equal opportunity led us to take all kinds of measures and they include cutting off the internet.”

The baccalaureate exams under scrutiny are hugely important in helping Algerians land a good job after school, and so there’s a lot of pressure to perform.

And you can partly blame our increasingly high-tech society for the rise in academic unscrupulousness: with so many tiny smart devices now available, getting anything from a leaked paper to a mind-bending audio illusion is easier than it’s ever been.

As you can imagine, many Algerians aren’t best pleased.

“I have no idea why they need to be so aggressive,” Lyès Rekkeb, who works at a web design agency, told Jon Henley at the Guardian.

“For me and lots of people like me, it’s a huge inconvenience. I lose half a day’s work. Why couldn’t they just close down the mobile internet? There must be other solutions.”

At least it gives Algerians an excuse not to check their phones quite so often during the periods of downtime.

We’ll have to wait and see whether these extreme measures help curb the cheating this exam season. In the meantime, check out Oracle’s Internet Intelligence site, and you can see the spikes where Algeria gets cut off from the web at large.

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