Legislators block funding to 'punish' exams authority for cheating bungle
The examinations authority was criticised by legislators yesterday over a blunder that may have enabled students to cheat on their English exam using internet-enabled mobile phones.
The Legislative Council's panel on education said the bungle was the latest of several and refused the authority's request for $22 million to set up an on-screen marking centre on Hong Kong Island - a 'punishment', in the words of legislator Cheung Man-kwong.
'It seems every year you have some problems,' said Mr Cheung, who represents the education sector. 'But we never dreamt that you would include internet addresses on the HKCEE exam so that students could cheat.'
Students who took the HKCEE English Syllabus B exam complained last Thursday that some candidates used Web addresses on the bottom of exam paper pages to cheat while on toilet breaks.
Francis Cheung Wing-ming, deputy secretary-general of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, told legislators that the authority was liaising with police and internet service providers in an attempt to access data that would show how many people had accessed the web pages in question using mobile phones at the time the exam was under way.
'So far there is no evidence to show that anyone actually did cheat,' Dr Cheung said.
However, the authority would review its procedures and tighten controls on the use of all electronic devices.
The authority had received 98 complaints from students, of which five had provided specific information. Three of these had named specific testing centres, and the authority was in the process of questioning supervisors about whether they had noticed anything unusual.
Dr Cheung said he hoped the inquiry would be completed next week. Students found to have cheated in this or any other exam would be dealt with 'seriously' - including having all exam scores annulled. 'We have been looking at the practice in other jurisdictions. In the mainland and Taiwan, cheating in a public examination is treated as a criminal offence. We might not take that route, but this indicates Chinese communities consider cheating very serious.'
Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung said he was concerned with the cheating claims and stressed that integrity was more important than grades.
Pauline Chow Lo-sai, chairwoman of the Joint English Teachers' Circle and member of the Curriculum Development Council Committee on English Language Education, said she had compared one of the passages in the paper with the original essay published in USA Today and found that only 'minimal' changes had been made in the adapted version.
She was critical of the authority making so few changes, adding that in adapting articles for exams, a teacher should paraphrase and restructure sentences.
St Mark's School in Shau Kei Wan, identified by the media as one of the centres where cheating had taken place, issued a statement last night denying the claim.
Meanwhile, three youth organisations - the Young Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the Federation of New Territories Youth and the Hong Kong Youth Association - have urged the authority to rethink the practice of having Web links on exam papers.
An online petition calling for that section of the exam to be discounted had gathered more than 17,300 signatures by late last night.
Cheat sheet: a Web address on the examination paper.