Desperate Measures

To cope with intense pressure and unrealistic levels of academic expectations, students often employ extreme measures to get ahead, writes M Ishtiaque Hossain

Saad Mohammad got fed up with accounting after 6months down the ACCA course and decided to kick the bucket and start from scratch as an English major. Saad decided to have a crack at one of the most prestigious private universities in Bangladesh. While scouring his entire social circle of seniors for tips and guidelines on how to get into that University, one of his senior Boro Bhai claimed that he could get Saad in for a meager amount of 200,000 BDT.

Saad, already 6months behind schedule, decided to go for it. In Saad’s words “I was already fed up with ACCA. I wanted to go to a regular university, like most of my friends. Between my parents nagging me all the time and having to convince them to pay for my university tuitions from square one, I didn’t really have time to prepare for the admission test. So I decided to buy my way in. Although I didn’t get to go to the university I wanted, I went to a pretty good engineering school nevertheless.”

How does the process work? Utsha Mohan Daas a veteran admission “guide” who’s been in the business for almost two years, explains “Well I just get someone else to sit for the exam. Someone who has already jumped the admission hurdles before and is a shoo in. We just switch pictures in the admission form and the admit card, with our own makeshift seals. The rest is taken care of ‘internally’.”

An assistant proctor of a private university who wishes to remain unnamed acknowledges the backdoor admission process, “They are definitely some backdoors in the admission process. The competition is intense, even in private universities. Since these backdoors are linked with powerful people in high places, there’s nothing much we can do to stop it. What we can do is make sure these students are weeded out if they can’t maintain a respectable grade point average.”

Sounds like a good enough plan to cut down backdoor admission, but unfortunately this strict CGPA policy also fuels the desperation for better grades. Students will go to insane lengths to acquire good grades. Cheating doesn’t even begin to describe the length undergrad students will go to get a good grade. Rafsan, a BBA student is in his third year still hasn’t passed his foundation English course; which he was supposed to be done with in his first semester. “After failing ENG102 for three consecutive semesters, I just decided to give up. It’s affecting my other grades and bringing down my CGPA, so I decided to pay off someone to take the exam for me.” One might ponder how this whole one- person-taking-an-exam-instead-of-someone-else business works. Since ENG102 is a prerequisite for every undergrad student, most universities take these foundation course exams collectively (i.e students from all departments sit for this exam together). Eventually each exam hall winds up with more than a hundred students and keeping track of their ID’s is a task too big for the invigilators to handle. Even though a few universities have taken strict measures to prevent exams by proxy, most just don’t have the manpower and resources to rectify the situation.

“I have banned students from restroom privileges during exams. I know it seems unreasonable but they left me with no other alternatives” says, Mahmud Rahman, a veteran invigilator and a faculty from the pharmacy department. “I found notes and books in the restroom on more than one occasion. One time I actually caught a guy red handed while he was googling answers in the men’s room. But the craftiest kind of cheating I’ve encountered over the years would have to be the girl with the tiny Bluetooth earplug. Apparently her boyfriend was somewhere in campus sitting in front of his laptop, with all the hand notes and text included in the syllabus and relaying answers to her over the phone.”

While parents and the faculty are quick to blame the students for their lack of dedication and hard work, that’s hardly the case. If someone is willing to take insane measures for good grades then it’s safe to assume that person actually might have a good reason for adopting harebrained schemes as opposed to actually studying. While some faculties are opposed to memorizing most faculties will just plain insist their students to memorize definitions and classifications. While memorizing vast arrays of definitions, classifications and formulae are a requirement for certain subjects. But for subjects like marketing and management this method makes no sense for most students. Arshad, a marketing major expresses his dissatisfaction at the current state of undergrad education. “I decided to go for marketing because I was tired of crunching numbers and memorizing text that held no real meaning to me. I wanted to do something creative but at the same time mainstream enough for me to earn big bucks. That’s why I chose to major in marketing. But undergrad seems like high school all over again, I was expecting tests that require me to use my powers of deduction instead I’m back to memorizing tables, pyramids and what’s the definition of what.”

Most of us will probably agree that poorly designed tests are no excuse for cheating and everyone is vehemently against students getting into good institutions via the proverbial backdoor. But somehow we always manage to gloss over the fact that desperate measures are taken only in desperate times. And oddly enough no one seems to care about fixing the latter.

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