The Medical and Dental Colleges Admission Test (MDCAT) conducted, on August 20, became controversial when the news of its leaked paper started doing the media rounds the same evening.
What caught public attention was that a handwritten text had been uploaded on a Facebook page hours after the exam had ended, and it was claimed that it was available with certain people before the commencement of the test.
Inquiry was ordered by the government into the episode but after preliminary investigations it was concluded that all this had been done just to malign the University of Health Sciences (UHS), Lahore that conducts the test. In fact, the blame was put on some students who could not do well in the test and their teacher who taught them at an academy.
Junaid Zafar, Vice Chancellor (VC), UHS, who has been sent on forced leave, also alleged at that time that the user of a Facebook account named “Ya mbbs ha mamu” was trying to malign the credibility of the university by spreading false news.
The story didn’t end here. Things turned out to be different when a second probe was ordered into the incident. Headed by Hussain Asghar, Additional Inspector General (Addl IG) Commandant Punjab Constabulary, the inquiry team found a racket involved in paper leak that comprised staff of the university as well. Several people are in police custody and it is expected that revealing details of the modus operandi will be made public soon.
Asghar who is well-known for his investigative skills got hold of Call Data Records (CDRs) of different people including a few hundred students who had scored exceptionally well, and found that they were in contact with a common person prior to the holding of the test. This person was taken into custody and the information extracted from him helped the investigators unearth the whole thing.
The August 20 test was cancelled, and a new date — of October 29 — announced for the re-test.
The test had been held simultaneously at 28 centres established in 13 cities namely Lahore, Faisalabad, Sahiwal, Multan, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Sargodha, Gujrat, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Sialkot, DG Khan, and Hassan Abdal, and attempted by around 65,000 students.
A lot of debate is going on among different quarters. There are those who are demanding it should be abandoned altogether, whereas others want the government to improve its vigilance system and make the system leakage proof. There are those also who want the weightage to be reduced from 50 per cent to 30 per cent, or even 20 per cent, but are against doing away with it. So, the question is whether the UHS and the government will be able to restore the credibility of this exam or not?
Ashraf Nizami, Central President, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), says he has always been against the entry test and the recent paper leak has strengthened his stance. He questions the logic of having this test and giving it 50 per cent weightage in admission formula and only 10 per cent and 40 per cent to the matriculation and intermediate scores respectively. “How can you test what a person has learnt in 12 years in just two and a half hours?” he asks.
“Isn’t it strange that the same Punjab government that is conducting intermediate exams is suspecting itself and conducting another test to verify the results?”
Nizami says that the logic given for holding entry test two decades back was that the boards of intermediate and secondary education in the province were occupied by mafias and there were a lot of irregularities in their functioning. Besides, he says, there was a marked difference in the curriculum, pattern of papers, marking stands. But now, he says, the system has been streamlined and the province has one of the best examination systems at this level but still the government is adamant to hold entry tests.
He rejects the idea of taking security measures to make paper setting system foolproof and minimising chances of leakage on the grounds that the entry test has lost its utility as well as credibility. The hardworking students will lose confidence in
themselves and fear that some influential people still have access to mafias dealing in question
Nizami urges the CM Punjab to depend more on his own vision rather than the advice of the bunch of people around him. He says one wonders why Prof (retd) Faisal Masood, who is almost 64 years of age, has been appointed the VC while ignoring around 300 in service professors. This speaks volumes of how a selected few are controlling the health sector of the province.
UHS spokesman Muhammad Atif says that although the university has not yet received any report on the involvement of any of its staffers in the paper leak, it has taken strict measures to avoid a repeat of what has reportedly happened. The police, he says, has taken some UHS employees in custody and is still inquiring them whereas the UHS has also banned the entry of those staffers who it suspects to be involved in this debacle in any way.
Atif shares that strict measures have been taken to ensure data security relating to the preparation of the new question paper. For example, this process is being carried out on a special, standalone computer with no provision of sharing data internally or externally. Low-resolution CCTV cameras have been installed in the room where the question paper will be prepared so that they cannot capture the image of the text. Facilities such as Wifi remain disabled through newly installed jammers till the day the test is conducted.
Besides, the representatives of Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) would stay at the campus till that date and ensure that no attempt is made to steal any data or access electronic systems without permission.
Another precaution taken in this context, he says, is that a special uniform has been prescribed for workers employed in the examination section. The uniform will have no pockets in it and the employees will be properly frisked while going in and out to ensure that they do not carry any objectionable stuff with them.
Dr Mujahid Musa, who runs Testing Institute and Preparatory Services (TIPS) in Lahore, rejects the allegation that academies are involved in the scam and says they are simply providing specialised service to the students. He says an individual can be involved in personal capacity but blaming the whole sector for a wrong practice is unjustified. Musa justifies existence of academies training students for MDCAT saying the education boards’ system does not give any idea to the students about how to attempt these papers.
He urges the government to give strict punishment to the culprits and make an example out of them for those who have ever thought of indulging in a similar activity. But if it is thinking about abandoning it, he says, it shall shut down all its departments because corruption and irregularities are rampant everywhere.