JAPAN: Cheating sparks soul search over 'lazy' youth

A cheating scandal discovered among students vying for entrance to some of Japan's top universities has rocked the nation and set off a national soul search over young people and how dishonesty should be dealt with. The cheaters used a web bulletin board to ask questions while university entrance tests were underway. A student was arrested on Thursday.

Masao Fukunaga, a professor of South Asian studies at Sophia University, said an ongoing focus on punishing cheating culprits was a missed opportunity to instill a greater sense of responsibility in Japanese students.

Newspaper editorials said the debacle was due to lazy youth who accepted responses without checking they were correct.

Recently questions from maths and English examinations for entrance to prestigious Kyoto University were posted on Chibukuro (knowledge bag), an internet bulletin board hosted by Yahoo, while the exams were still in progress.

The students who sent the questions by mobile phone asked for the correct answers, and in the case of mathematics also the calculations needed to come up with the answer. For the English examination held on Saturday last weekend, the student posting to the bulletin board requested an English translation and received a response in less than 10 minutes.

The responses to all six questions posted were received while the examinations were still in progress.

On Thursday, police in Kyoto arrested and questioned a 19-year-old student who had allegedly cheated during the entrance tests. According to media reports he told police he fells "great shame over what he has done but he was desperate to pass the exam".

Other universities including Waseda University, Doshisha University and Rikkyo University also discovered that questions from their entrance exams last month had appeared on the Yahoo site while the exams were still underway.

Education Minister Yoshiaki Takaki said his ministry would take "every possible measure" to prevent such cheating from happening again. "It seriously damaged the fairness of and trust in entrance examinations that should be carried out correctly," he said. "It was extremely regrettable."

Reflecting public sentiment that seeks decisive punishment, Kyoto University called the leak of exam questions "a criminal act that shakes the foundation of entrance examinations".

The incident has paved the way for a stiff clampdown with the spotlight on an internet-savvy younger generation that is managing to hoodwink authorities, with some even calling for body searches and the installation of metal detectors at universities.

But professor of Japanese language Atsuko De Roy said Japan's post-war education had ignored individual ethics and social responsibility, preferring to "stuff youth with statistics and historical dates instead".

Fukunaga echoed the sentiment, saying Japanese school regulations tended to control youngsters with many rules and regulations on their dress, manners and even activities after school.

"But that is not working," Fukunaga said, adding: "What is long needed is education that promotes individual responsibility and [moves] away from the focus of getting students to simply pass their exams."

Cheating during 'exam hell', as the tough university entrance examinations are referred to given the excruciating competition to get into the best universities, is nothing new. In 2002 another leading Japanese university withdrew test results after 26 students used their mobile phones to exchange answers.

Teachers have also spotted students cheating with mobile phones concealed in their shirts or coats, despite tough monitoring by supervisors who even follow the exam sitters into bathrooms.

An official of the university entrance exam section at the Ministry of Education, who preferred not to be named, said steps are being taken for a "thorough investigation" towards setting up stringent rules to avoid similar incidents.

But Japanese examinees going for entrance tests last week voiced their disapproval over new, tougher measures in universities. They argued that they were bearing the brunt of controls instituted for a problem caused by a minority of students.

Media generally blamed indolent students for the debacle. Asahi newspaper, the country's second largest daily, suggested in an editorial on 2 March that the misconduct was all about lazy students waiting for answers on the web which they accepted without checking that they were correct.

The newspaper warned that electronic information was a negative influence on "man's intellectual activity".

Yahoo Japan says it patrols bulletin board websites, monitoring posts that include certain words that might be linked to crime. However the filters failed to pick up the lastest case, which purportedly involved a student seeking answers for 'cram school' assignments.