Jueves 8 de Agosto de 2002, Ip nş 21

r u ready 2 cheat?
Por John Aglionby

Even though she does not get her entrance exam results for another few weeks, Yenny says she is 99.99% certain she will be among the law faculty freshers at Jakarta State University (UNJ) when the new academic year begins in September.

The 18-year-old's confidence is not based on a brilliant track record at secondary school or luck that the subjects she revised came up - almost everything comes up in some form as the exam is merely dozens of multiple choice questions. It is much more simple than that: she cheated.

The way Yenny (not her real name) got the answers, though, is a million miles more sophisticated than methods used by generations of British pupils, namely writing information on one's arms, legs and tissues, or going out to the toilet in the middle of the exam and getting information.

Indonesian cheating syndicates are big business and use the latest cell phone and pager technology, or simple text messages.

While having a drink at a roadside stall with a group of schoolmates, a "jockey" (the term used for the masterminds behind the cheating scams) approached them and said he could help them to get through the highly competitive state university exam.

"I was doing OK at school but I wasn't feeling very confident about the exam," says Yenny. "So I spoke to my parents about it and they said they would pay the jockey."

Yenny's apprehension about failing the exam is well founded, according to Professor Juwono Sudarsono, a former education minister and professor at the country's most prestigious university, the University of Indonesia. "It's all a question of demographics," he says. "The competition to get into state universities nowadays is keener than ever. There are about 30 million high school students and only 2.5 million university places. And the odds are getting bigger every year."

Exacerbating the situation is Indonesia's prolonged economic crisis, which has dragged on since the collapse of most south-east Asian currencies five years ago. Economic growth last year was only 3.3%, a figure most European Union states would drool at but sufficient to create jobs for only half Indonesia's school leavers. Hence the pressure to get into university.

And with unemployment also rising - the unemployed or under- employed account for more than a third of the nation's workforce - fewer parents can afford to pay for their children to attend the myriad private universities. For example, the tuition fee per semester at UNJ is about 400,000 Indonesian rupiah (£28.50) while at the private Atma Jaya University, also in Jakarta, it is Rp 2,500,000 (£178).

It is not always the students that take the initiative to contact the jockeys. Indonesian magazines have been describing how it is now often parents who force their children to cheat in their desperate desire to see them succeed. "These days the only thing that talks is money," a mother from Indonesia's third-largest city, Medan, was quoted as saying by Tempo news weekly. "What else is there to do?"

In exchange for a Rp 2m (£140) down payment and her secondary school diploma as collateral, Yenny's jockey supplied her with a tiny mobile phone and a hands-free cable and promised to call during the exam. "All I had to do was smuggle the phone into the exam room and set the ringing tone to vibrate," she says. "I strapped the cord to my left arm and wore a loose long-sleeved shirt so it wouldn't be noticed."

Armed with a tongue-clicking code - one for "OK", two for "repeat" - Yenny went into the exam earlier this month acting as casually as she could. She left her bag and normal mobile phone with the invigilators and settled down, waiting for the call. It came after only five minutes. "All the jockey said was a series of 10 numbers and letters: 1A, 2B, 3D, 4B, 5E and so on," She says. Five minutes later he rang again with the next set of answers.

"During one call an invigilator came up behind me but I just coughed loudly and stopped the call," Yenny says. "I was very nervous at the time but I have to say it worked to perfection." Perfection included a number of deliberately wrong answers. "The jockey explained that it would be suspicious if all his clients got 100%. So he said each of us would get a different selection wrong."

She has no idea how the jockey - whom she described as being in his mid-20s and probably an ex-student - got the exam paper in advance, and has no desire to find out. The most likely ways are theft or bribery. Sometimes thieves sell the question paper direct to the students but this is done rarely because the jockeys then lose control over the supply of answers.

Yenny also says she does not know how many people paid for the services of the same jockey, but guesses it is in the dozens. "The authorities say they are cracking down and the invigilators are strict but it's not that hard to get round them."

Not all the cheats are as fortunate as this daughter of a "fairly successful businessman". Earlier this month police in Medan busted a jockey syndicate and arrested three jockeys, four exam paper thieves and 21 students trying to cheat their way into the region's main state university, the University of North Sumatra. Many of the students had mobile phones, or pagers, secreted on their bodies.

"It was our biggest success ever," says Lieutenant Tara Subroto, of the Medan police. "However, we have no idea how many others there were. It is probably like drugs: we are only scratching the surface." Handfuls of students were snared in virtually every other major city across the sprawling archipelago of 210 million people.

University authorities are not so pessimistic as the police. Professor Sutjipto, the rector of UNJ, says five cheats were uncovered at his institution during this year's exam. "We had about 20,000 register for the exam and I would think less than one per cent were cheating," he says. "There will always be jockeys but the rules are a lot stricter now than they used to be, so it is a lot harder for them."

That means, however, about 200 people were cheating at his university alone - which would account for about 15% of the places on offer.

Measures UNJ and most other universities use to stop the cheats are to insist on only pencils and erasers being allowed into the exam room; all students have to bring an authorised photograph of themselves (this is to prevent someone else sitting the exam for them, a common practice until a few years ago because handwriting was not an issue as the questions are all multiple choice) and to have a student-to-invigilator ratio of between 10 and 20 to one.

Professor Sutjipto discounts bribery as a means to pass the state university entrance exam. "That would be impossible because everything is computerised," he says. "The staff don't have access to the system to make any changes."

The same cannot be said for the private sector, where most institutions have their own entrance procedures. "If I wanted to get round the system, bribery would definitely be the way," says Sammy, a second-year maths student at Atma Jaya. "It's much simpler and less risky than using a jockey. And jockeys prefer to stick to the state system where the number of candidates is greater and people are more desperate."

Sammy admits cheating on a regular basis in exams within the university. "Virtually everyone does it," he says. "It's the only way to get through because the tests and the curriculum are not compatible - we just aren't taught everything we are tested on."

The government accepts that cheating in all aspects of the education system is rampant, but little can be done while the culture of corruption within the bureaucracy is so endemic. "People are willing to pay a lot of money to get into university and teachers' and lecturers' salaries are still very low," explained a spokesman at the ministry of education. "It will probably continue for at least another five years and probably longer."

Meanwhile Yenny, who clearly feels no guilt, is preparing the remaining Rp 10m (£700) she owes the jockey, whose name she never learnt. "Sure, it's a lot of money but it's cheaper than going to a private university. I'll probably get a better education and I'm more likely to get a decent job at the end. What could be better?"


  30/07/2002. The Guardian.