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Tougher Tawjihi rules necessary, ‘but constitutional rights must be guaranteed’

By Laila Azzeh - Jan 13,2016 - Last updated at Jan 13,2016

In this undated file photo, Tawjihi students gather outside the exam hall in Amman (Photo by Nader Daoud)

AMMAN — Penalties against violators of the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination (Tawjihi) remain a point of controversy for experts, with some describing them as "exaggerated" and others as "necessary".

When applying to Tawjihi, the key threshold that defines students' academic future and career, scholars receive a copy of the Education Ministry's instructions governing the national exam, including measures taken against those found in violation.

Under the instructions, students who are caught possessing earpieces, mobile phones, cameras or any other devices that can be used for cheating will be banned from sitting for the Tawjihi exam for two consecutive years.

The penalty is doubled for home-study applicants, i.e., repeaters, who are banned from sitting for the exam for four consecutive years if found in violation.

Students are also forbidden from sitting for the exam if found in possession of cheat sheets and if they tear the exam paper, cause chaos, refuse to sit in the designated seat or act aggressively against exam monitors.

"The problem with these instructions is that they are not being justifiably applied across Jordan. Education departments in some regions are known to be very rigid about the rules, while others are very lenient. Students are well aware of this and feel how unfair it is, especially for a national standard exam," said Ayman Okour, Jordan Teachers Association (JTA) spokesperson, in remarks to The Jordan Times on Tuesday.

He noted that the punishments should be intended to deter students, not harm them, citing the "inflexibility" of the instructions in some cases, such as forgetting the mobile phone in the pocket without having the intention of cheating.

“In addition, there are no unified criteria for applying the penalties. A large number of students call the syndicate each day during the exam session to complain of the unjust implementation of the rules,” said Okour.

Students who arrive few minutes late to the exam are banned from entry to the exam hall, while the exam hall monitor has the right not to allow any student to continue the exam, if they suspect there was any cheating attempt.

“We do not encourage arriving late to the exam or doing anything that might jeopardise its integrity, but there are cases that should be addressed individually after looking into its circumstances. Having a car accident before arriving to the exam is definitely an excuse,” the JTA spokesperson said.

Leen Haris, a Tawjihi student, noted that while she and her peers respect the rules when it comes to the exam, sometimes things go out of control.

“I know students who were banned from the exam for being few minutes late,” the private school student told The Jordan Times over the phone on Tuesday.

On the other hand, Fakher Daas, coordinator of the National Campaign for Defending Students’ Rights (Thabahtoona) said he supports “strict” rules as a “way to put things back into their perspective”.

“There was a state of lawlessness in the Tawjihi exam halls due to the leniency followed after the Arab Spring under the pretext of preventing chaos and problems. Strict application of the instructions brings back the integrity of the exam, at least for now,” Daas said.

Omar Jazi, a law professor and established lawyer, agreed, saying that it “reached a point where parents were assisting their children to cheat”.

He added that the ministry has the right to stiffen the punishments, but it should stick to the middle ground to ensure the best interests of students.

“For example, the student could be banned from admitting to the exam for one scholastic year instead of two,” Jazi said.

In 2013, Education Minister Mohammad Thneibat announced that some examination hall monitors have been involved in violations and facilitated cheating in previous years and they were held accountable.
According to an investigative report published by local media in the same year, 30 per cent of cheating incidents involved mobile phones, while other cheating methods included having relatives of the students enter the exam halls to help them or using loudspeakers to read the answers to students.
The report also indicated that groups of people sell the questions and answers of the exam with the complicity of some officials from the ministry, while some bookshops sell small-print copies of the tests with the answers included.

Legal expert Saleh Daoud said the instructions governing the violations of the Tawjihi exam are “clear and blunt” in forbidding the possession of any devise that can be used for cheating.

“The instructions also entail that decisions made by the education director is irrevocable and this violates all the punitive customary norms, by-laws and laws in Jordan,” he said.

Daoud added that such decisions affect the lives and future of students, and therefore should not be left to the judgement of individuals, suggesting the formation of an ad hoc committee to probe such cases.

Jazi noted that having administrative decisions cannot be irrevocable because that violated the Constitution.

The current winter session, which will conclude Wednesday, witnessed a “substantial” drop in violations compared to the previous year, according to the Education Ministry.

 

In earlier remarks, Thneibat attributed the drop in registered violations to the “students’ commitment to regulations” and the measures taken by the ministry.

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