A couple of weeks back, the disturbing news about rampant cheating during the Medical and Dental Colleges Admission Test (MDCAT) shocked both the medical community and academia. The test was conducted across the country, while incidents of cheating were recorded from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). For some people though – given how Pakistani society has comfortably rationalized a culture of cheating – the news was a ‘tell-us-something-we-don’t-know’ moment. No accountability gives students the confidence to try out illegal means for admission in universities. For medical colleges, such a practice is nothing less than a disaster as it is a profession that cannot afford dishonesty given how its practitioners are responsible for saving human lives. In the latest cheating scandal, dozens of aspiring medical professionals have been arrested by the police in Kohat and Peshawar. Investigation reports suggest that students were using high-tech electronic gadgets to deceive the vigilant invigilators and pass the entry test.
This does not end here. Students allegedly paid close to Rs2 million to men behind the cheating scam to get ‘assistance’ during the examinations. Across the world, securing admission to medical colleges is an arduous task, with only the brightest students entering the field. In Pakistan too, the criteria to qualify for the entry test are rigid, and the test demands students to work hard (and not look for shortcuts) to enter the profession.
While such instances do point to the country’s deeply fractured systems, they should also serve as a reminder for authorities that pay no attention to the deteriorating standards of education across the country. That some students preferred paying hefty amounts to pass the test instead of working hard on their own shows that there are some areas that need urgent fixing. MDCAT examinations have always been marred with controversies, with angry and frustrated students claiming the test includes topics that were ‘out of syllabus’. Without using this as an excuse for students’ unlawful conduct during the exams, it is indeed essential for authorities to go to its root cause, understanding what makes students take such extreme steps. The entrance into medical colleges opens the gates for a brighter future for most students – some apply for the prestigious CSS exams after completing their five-year degree. But an entry that stands on cheating and deceit deprives honest and hardworking students of a chance to build a successful and accomplished future. Strict measures should definitely be taken against people involved in cheating scams, but it is also equally important to fix the loopholes in our existing education system. The state’s inaction in this regard has been quite damaging. There is also a need for medical regulatory bodies to work with the government in making sure this level of dishonesty is never tried again.