Sunday 19 January 2020

Big clampdown on Twitter to halt exam leaks

LEAVING Cert authorities have launched a major clampdown on Twitter and other internet forums ahead of tomorrow's exam.

Officials have hired an external company to monitor everything that is posted about the exam online in a "Big Brother" style operation.

They are determined to "flush out" and "stamp out" cheats who gather or share information on the internet.

In particular officials will be watching for "leaks" or rumours about topics that may be on the exam papers.

"It is a bit 'Big Brother' but with mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter and other forums having so much influence on students it is necessary to be one step ahead," said a source.

Some 55,550 candidates are due to start their final school exams tomorrow morning.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC), which runs the Leaving Cert, confirmed to the Herald that it will be closely monitoring online activity.

"In recent years, much of the public commentary on the written examinations has been generated through social media outlets and in recognition of this, the SEC has for the last two years monitored social media over the course of the examinations period," explained a spokeswoman.

A survey by easyschool books.ie shows the average Leaving Cert student spends one to two hours "actively engaged" with Facebook daily.

A specialist analytical company has been recruited to report online activity to the SEC.

"Updates will be as regular as every hour so if anything untoward happens we will know immediately," said an education source.

Authorities are desperate to avoid a repeat of the incident in 2009 where the contents of the Leaving Cert English Paper II exam were circulated online.

The exam had to be rescheduled because an observer at one centre handed out the wrong paper a day early.

The SEC also launched an investigation last year after students allegedly boasted of cheating on the online discussion forum boards.ie.


One pupil bragged of hiding notes in socks and pants, while others claimed to have read saved messages from their mobile phones.

"When the wrong paper was handed out it was all over the internet for hours before the incident was officially reported," explained the source.

"This way the chances are that officials will know that something has happened before it becomes a big issue. Schools will then be able to limit the damage."

The SEC said it had media monitoring of all print publications throughout the year to "keep abreast of news, public comment and developments about examinations and the field of education generally".

"In addition, there is an increased media and public focus during the written examinations in June and over this period we also monitor other media such as radio and TV," the spokeswoman told the Herald.

The monitoring of online media is to be carried out by Dublin firm Stephen O'Leary Analytics.

The National Parents Council said it hoped no students were thinking of cheating.

Spokeswoman Jackie O'Callaghan urged students who feel the need to cheat to instead hope for "a bit of luck".

"It's just an exam at the end of the day. A lot of students put themselves under huge pressure," she said.


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