Toilet trips timed in clamp on cheats

Exam candidates will have to place mobile phones in full view under their desks

Candidates sitting for public examinations will have the time of their trips to the toilet recorded from today as part of a crackdown on mobile phone cheats.

They will also be required to put their mobile phones under their desks so they can be seen by examination supervisors.

The hastily drawn-up measures were announced yesterday in response to claims that some candidates had used mobile phones with Net-surfing capability to cheat during an English language examination last Thursday.

Rumours of the cheating spread quickly through online chat rooms, prompting an online signature campaign by some candidates, who wanted examination authorities to ignore the answers to the part of the paper in question.

The candidates also called on fellow students sitting for public examinations today and tomorrow to wear black as a protest.

Hongkong Examinations and Assessment Authority deputy secretary-general Francis Cheung said yesterday the authority appreciated the candidates' concerns and closer checks would be in place from today.

'We shall ask candidates to turn off their phones and place them under the desks,' Dr Cheung said on Cable TV. 'If some say they have not brought their phones with them or they have no phones, we shall ask the examination supervisors to be on alert when they ask for toilet breaks.'

He also said supervisors at the examination centre could record the time of candidates' trips to the toilet if there were suspicious circumstances.

The authority would convene an emergency meeting today to discuss follow-up action, he said.

At the centre of the cheating claims was the English language (syllabus B) paper two of the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examinations, the Hong Kong version of the O-level examination, held last Thursday.

Some Net surfers who said they had sat for the examination wrote in online forums that there were rumours some candidates had cheated in the exam by using mobile phones during trips to the toilets.

The allegations have not been substantiated, but they quickly prompted an online petition. By late last night, more than 16,400 surfers had signed it.

Legislator Cheung Man-kwong, who represents the teaching sector, said the authority should be held responsible.

'The easiest way [to rule out any benefit to cheats in the exam] is to ignore that part of the questions,' said Mr Cheung.

Federation of Parent Teacher Associations of Hong Kong Eastern District chairman Raymond Jao Ming said: 'Technology advances quickly and it is getting more difficult for the authority to stop cheaters. But it is too radical for some candidates to stage protests.'