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Ethiopia Bussing Nearly One Million Students to Limit Exam Cheating 

FILE - Students sit socially distanced in class as they attend a lesson at the Ethio Parents elementary and high school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 26, 2020.
FILE - Students sit socially distanced in class as they attend a lesson at the Ethio Parents elementary and high school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 26, 2020.

Ethiopia will transport nearly a million matriculating twelfth graders to universities for college entrance exams in a bid to limit test leaking and cheating. The exam for social science students was completed last week and natural science students began this Tuesday. 

Online leaking of tests and cheating allegations have raised concern in the East African nation for several years. In 2016, exam questions were posted online prior to testing, forcing the government to reschedule examinations nationwide.

Parents and high school students have decried the obscure process of the initiative and the added level of anxiety on test takers.

“I never left my parents even for one day. I am not sure how I will be staying on the campus for a week without seeing them or not even talking with them,” said Mimi Badhaso, an 18-year-old from Adama, a major town about 97 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Badhaso, who is asthmatic, is worried about her health in the new environment. Accidents, injuries and at least a dozen girls going into labor have been reported so far.

Ethiopia's high school departure exam, similar to SAT or ACT in the United States, is a once-in-a-lifetime ticket to universities. In years past, although administered by education ministry exam supervisors, testing took place in familiar school settings in the presence of teachers and staff.

But that is not the case this year. Over 976,000 students who are sitting for this year's examination are leaving home, barred from contacting their parents for a week. Some have had to travel over 100 kilometers (62 miles) on government-provided transportation.

“All I can do is pray for the best,” Badhaso’s father told VOA in a phone interview as his daughter packed her luggage to leave home for the first time. “I might just go to the university to see the situation outside. We cannot go inside or even contact our children by phone.”

The nation's Ministry of Education, which oversees nationwide testing, has been posting pictures of students boarding buses, arriving at the gates of university campuses and going through security checks on its official Facebook page.

“What can be said surely is that the gaps will be closed in a higher percentage than what we have seen in the past years,” said Education Minister Berhanu Nega in an interview with local media. Nega said he is confident the change of venue and administrators will significantly limit cheating but did not rule out shortcomings.

Students like Samson Sileshi are hopeful. “All I care about is taking the exam and ensuring I do my best. I do not have an issue with where the exam is given,” Sileshi said.

Makiya Ahmed, a therapist based in Missouri, said otherwise. “Stability, consistency, food, sleep and staying hydrated are factors on how well students do on standardized tests,” said Ahmed in a Skype interview with VOA, adding that the new conditions are likely to affect how students perform on the test.

The examination will not be administered in the Tigray region for a second year due to the ongoing war. Students in parts of Oromia, Afar and Amhara similarly could not sit for the scheduled exam due to conflicts.