Algeria Turns Off the Internet During Student Testing, Affecting Everyone

The technique is effective, but at what cost?

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Now that cheating during exams has become more sophisticated than passing notes, Algeria has found a way to curb the digital sharing of test answers: Simply shut off the internet across the country.

In 2016, half a million Algerian students were forced to retake their standardized exams after it was discovered that the test questions were published online. This year’s nationwide high school graduation exams began on Wednesday, and to avoid a similar administrative disaster, the Algerian government announced that mobile and wired internet connections would go dark for an hour after the test was administered and be restored intermittently throughout the week, based on exam schedules.

Algeria's Education Minister Nouria Benghabrit

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“We should not passively stand in front of such a possible leak,” Education Minister Nouria Benghabrit explained, according to the BBC. Even though Benghabrit says she is “not comfortable” with the decision, the government has installed surveillance cameras and devices to jam mobile phones near the printing presses that publish the exam, ensuring that no student sees the questions ahead of schedule.

That drastic measures don’t end there. Not only will the entire country face internet outages over the course of the week — including banks and businesses that usually depend on internet access — but social networks like Facebook will be blocked throughout the entire duration of the exam period. The country’s steps to prevent cheating not only targets exam printing stations but the most common ways in which students (and everyone else) communicate. All electronic devices with internet access will be banned from the country’s 2,000 exam halls, reinforced with metal detectors at every location.

Both students and test administrators must adhere to the ban on mobile devices until June 25, after the final exams are administered. Over 700,000 students are expected to take the high school certificate examinations, and if Algeria’s measures are successful, the results will be published after July 22.

Algeria isn’t the first country to power down the internet to ensure student honesty. Ethiopia, Iraq, Uzbekistan, and other countries have reportedly used similar tactics during nationwide testing and entrance exams. The method affects not just students and educators but the country at large, and while that seems drastic, its effectiveness in other countries prompted Algeria to follow suit. If the new policy proves successful, Algeria, as well as other governments, will be more likely to employ outages in the future.