Can the nation dramatically transform its standards in this regard, improve efficiency, strengthen integrity, expand accessibility and increase transparency?If as a nation, we can answer the above questions in the affirmative, will the solution lie in the deployment of technology? These questions are of interest to and resonate with the very core of the Nigerian educational authorities, the employers and recruiters and the broader Nigerian Intelligentsia.
The current consistent undermining of public examinations, term and semester examinations in institutions of learning, pre-employment aptitude tests etc. has been a challenge that has eluded the nation, government after government, administrator after administrator.
A Lagos based firm Dragnet Solutions Limited has made this its ambition, to turn back the hands of time and return Nigeria to the days when integrity and credibility was taken as given in the conduct of tests/examinations. Dragnet believes that technology can defeat the malpractice conspirators and slowly weed away the culture of impunity that currently prevails. Question leakages (Expo) to candidates before the examination, use of examination mercenaries by candidates, collaboration by candidates and sharing of answers during the tests, ‘fixing’ of results after the tests, carrying of materials into the hall etc are some of the methods employed by the examination cheats.
Dragnet has been a long advocate for tests to migrate from the paper and pencil testing (PPT) methodology to computer based testing (CBT) methodology for a myriad of reasons one of which includes its arsenal against the test/examination cheats. The deployment CBT based tests improves the integrity of the testing process many folds. Dragnet has developed and deployed a proprietary e-examination administration platform called the “Face of Testing” which it in its 3rd version/release that confronts these challenges. The system caters for candidate registration, strict scheduling of candidates to test sessions in fit for purpose computer based test centers, authoring and pooling of questions into questions/items bank on the system, Candidate ID system based on digital photo and finger print (biometrics), test delivery engine for when the candidates sit for the test, auto-scoring functionality that ensures that the results are ready for release no later than 5 minutes after the test, option to release results immediately via sms to the candidates, and many security features that makes the platform robust.
To combat the leakage of examination questions, the Dragnet approach ensures that the questions don’t exist in the first place in any manner that can be leaked. The questions are held in a large pool in an encrypted format on the system. The questions are delivered to the candidates in a random order from the large pool of possible questions. The questions are further randomised by answer order. This means that questions are randomly put together for the candidate by the system at the point when the candidate clicks on "Take Test". At that point it becomes a race against time for the candidate to finish. Prior to that point where he/she clicks the "Take Test" link, no set of questions exist for the particular candidate as they simply exist in an encrypted pool. No human being alive or dead can predict the set of questions they would face. Under this type of testing regime, the notion of a leak is rendered meaningless.
Randomisation also ensures that candidates sitting beside one another are not delivered the same question order or answer order. This means that they cannot gain from sharing answers for they would be comparing answers to completely different questions.
In addition, Tests are deployed by way of proxy servers which temporarily houses information about expected candidates, questions they would sit as well as the test deliver engine. These proxy servers that hold the data at the centres do not hold data in raw formats. Data is held in an encrypted format and cannot be read as alphabets and graphics. Dragnet has since developed and implemented a proprietary algorithm which converts the questions into encrypted binary data for transfer to the proxy severs via secure links. The test delivery engine on the server works with the data in this encrypted binary format and only interprets the data at the point of delivery to the candidate. The randomisation process occurs at an encrypted secure level.
To counter the menace of test mercenaries, Dragnet has deployed the Face Of Testing platform in a way that incorporates the use of finger print scanners and digital cameras. At the test centres, the applicant’s identity is recorded using both digital photo as well as finger print. This allows the system retain the true identity of the applicant that gets examined. The digital photo and the fingerprint is irrevocably tied to the results into perpetuity. The results are released with the photo of the candidate who sat the test. Dragnet expects that no candidate will want his/her results released with the face of a test mercenary. Further validation of candidates’ identity is carried out by the finger print validation service that runs of the same platform. Multiple application for jobs has been stifled by this system as the finger print validation service detects and invalidates duplicate finger prints that arise from a candidate appearing more than once for the same assessment.
Score ‘fixing’ is impossible on the Dragnet system as technology based solution has been devised to preserve the integrity of the scores after any test/examination. The solution rests on a Score Integrity Validation Service (SIVS) which has been implemented to detect changes to scores after they’ve been saved in the results database. Changes to scores can no longer go undetected as the era of administrators altering candidates’ scores is being brought to an end. The SIVS process involves generating a unique key based on the applicants ID, Biometric Information and his score using the MD5 hashing algorithm. This key is then saved for posterity. The SIVS service runs by periodically creating a new key based on the same elements and proceeds to check that the current key matches the initial hashed key. If the score has changed, the new key will not match the initial hashed key. A log is created and the erring score is automatically invalidated for good. Any candidate that attempts to get the score changed, end up loosing the score altogether. In addition to the SIVS, the platform also logs the activities of Admin users ensuring that a record is kept of their activity. The logs will reveal the administrator that tampered with the scores. Information captured the system’s logs include: Time the activity took place, IP Address of machine / network used, description of the activity and the identification of the user.
Other features that heighten integrity include the absence of human intervention in the grading/scoring process as grading is done automatically by the system. No candidate can be discriminated against and none can be favoured as well. This allows fair competition and engenders excellence and meritocracy.
Dragnet accepts that this will not solve all the challenges for starters this applies only to multiple choice questions (objectives). They are yet to develop algorithms for the auto-grading of Essay and Diagram based examinations. This system is already being adopted by organisations like the Lagos Business School in admissions testing, ExxonMobil in scholarship testing, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for recruitment screening and internal promotion examinations. Some of the organisations that have deployed the system for Graduate Aptitude Tests include Cadbury, Nestle, NBC, Guinness, First Bank, Union Bank, MTN, Etisalat, Globacom, Flour Mills, Lafarge etc.
Nigerian educational authorities, the employers and recruiters and the broader Nigerian Intelligentsia are all keeping a keen eye on the advances made by Dragnet as they thrive to make examination malpractice a thing of the past allowing Nigeria birth a new generation based on excellence, meritocracy and fair competition. It is expected that the adoption of this approach by other organisations, stands to transform examination standards by improving efficiency, strengthening integrity and promoting transparency.