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Students Protest Facebook Cheating Scandal in Egypt

  • Heather Murdock

High school students protest at the educational ministry after a cheating scandal canceled the scores of a national exam. In Cairo they chant, “Students’ rights will never die!” June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

High school students protest at the educational ministry after a cheating scandal canceled the scores of a national exam. In Cairo they chant, “Students’ rights will never die!” June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

Hundreds of high school students marched in Cairo, calling for the Minister of Education's resignation after officials were arrested for leaking cheat sheets for national exams on Facebook.

While the event was predominately peaceful, some students were detained late in the day after throwing bricks and bottles at police who were blocking their way with riot vehicles and shooting rubber bullets in the air, according to an observer on the scene at the time of the clash.

Police were preventing the marchers from entering Tahrir Square, the epicenter of mass protests in 2011 and 2013.

Sunday, despite the arrest of several education officials earlier this month in connection with the scandal, questions and answers to a national exam appeared online, accessible to some students via mobile phone.

Egyptian riot police block students marching toward the Interior ministry and Parliament in Cairo, June 27, 2016. Later in the day, observers say some students were arrested after trying to force their way into Tahrir Square, the epicenter of mass protests in 2011 and 2013. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

Egyptian riot police block students marching toward the Interior ministry and Parliament in Cairo, June 27, 2016. Later in the day, observers say some students were arrested after trying to force their way into Tahrir Square, the epicenter of mass protests in 2011 and 2013. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

"A student in front of me took out his cellphone during the test," said Abdel Rahman Youssef, a high school senior at the protest. "He passed it through metal detector machines to bring it in. Those machines don't work. They are just for show."

The Egyptian Ministry of Education canceled the results and has re-scheduled the test, along with other exams in other subjects. Students are complaining that other exams were also compromised online by an anonymous user who claims to be operating in protest of school system failures.

Students marched through a neighborhood of government buildings Monday, shouting and chanting "Students' rights will never die" and "It's a failed ministry!" Some carried signs that said "#Class of 2016 Injustice" in Arabic.

High school students in Cairo say they don’t want to re-take the exam after their scores were canceled, and that officials should weed out tests that have the exact answers found online, June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

High school students in Cairo say they don’t want to re-take the exam after their scores were canceled, and that officials should weed out tests that have the exact answers found online, June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

Onlookers in the surrounding buildings splashed cool water on the students marching in the hot summer sun, most of them fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In the morning, police calmly steered students toward the education ministry, even chatting with students who were eating in the streets — a crime for Muslims in Egypt during Ramadan.

"We are all fed up from the school system," said Mohamed Abdullah, a high school student who wants to study math in college. "It's the headache it causes. And it is not just me, it is all of us."

Protest ban

Other recent demonstrations have been more tense than Monday's march, with scores of arrests following April protests against the pending transfer of two islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.

High school students call for the resignation Egypt’s education minister in Cairo, June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

High school students call for the resignation Egypt’s education minister in Cairo, June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

Most public demonstrations have been banned in Egypt since 2013.

Human Rights Watch says more than 150 people have been sentenced to prison in Egypt since the beginning of May 2016 for attending protests or circulating "false information." Many of the sentences were later reduced on appeal to fines.

“Sometimes, the even ten minutes before the exam, the test is compromised,” says Mariam (L), with her friend, Manar (R). June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

“Sometimes, the even ten minutes before the exam, the test is compromised,” says Mariam (L), with her friend, Manar (R). June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

The Egyptian government says that approaching human rights through the lens of Western norms distorts the truth, citing national security concerns.

Besides demanding the minister's resignation, students protested corruption in the school system and demanded the ministry not cancel their exam scores, which would force them to prepare for the exam again.

The year-end exams, they said, are crucial because they often determine college admittance and which majors they are allowed to pursue within the university system.

"It means we will have no dreams, no dream to join a university or a faculty," said Mariam, a high school senior at the demonstration. "When we attend exams, we see someone has put the answers online."

Hamada Elrasam contributed to this report.

Protesters say even though officials were arrested, the Facebook page where exam questions and answers are leaked is still running, June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

Protesters say even though officials were arrested, the Facebook page where exam questions and answers are leaked is still running, June 27, 2016. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

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