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Varsity student invents exam cheating detector

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New device will put to rest several cases of exam leaks in institutions of higher learning

By Ben Oduor

It’s going to be business unusual for hardcore exam cheats who sneak into classrooms with mobile phones, thanks to a student innovation from the Technical University of Kenya (TUK).

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In what would have been assumed by some students as a ‘good for nothing’ challenge from their lecturer, Boniface Mutegi Githinji heeded to his tutor, Prof Jackson Odote, when he instructed the class to come up with life-changing innovative ideas in 2016.

“That was part of my regular annual session with students when I challenge them to come up with impactful innovative ideas. This being a technical university, it is incumbent that we graduate students who are fully equipped with technical skills that can advance the society,” says Prof Odote, an associate professor at the Department of Physics and Space Sciences.

“This time round my interest was on technological innovation. I challenged students to explore more ideas in this field, hinting on them to come up with a gadget that could help supervisors nab exam leakage in classrooms by detecting presence of mobile phones.”

The professor knew various ideas would pop up, but not of his most preferred gadget. Certainly, he was wrong. Weeks later, one student knocked on his door with a proposal to give the challenge a try, under his coaching though.

“What I saw in him at first instance was passionate drive to get his hands on something. With the kind of determination that was written all over his face, the idea was going to be transformed into something big. I said ‘let’s give it a try,” says Prof. Odote.

Mutegi, a final year student pursuing Technical and Applied physics, recalls making several visits to his lecturer’s office and to the lab to gather theoretic and practical skills, a move that is set to bear fruits.

Twelve months later, in an interview with the professor and his student innovator at his office on the fourth floor of Telecom House, Haile Selassie Avenue, the duo displayed a prototype of the mobile detector, which they say detect hidden communications such as voice calls, interactive messaging and search engine activities on mobile phones that students carry into exam rooms.

Mutegi says the gadget will be installed strategically within examination rooms that will be divided into smaller cells. Each cell will be represented by a student, and it is this strategic positioning of the mobile detectors, added to the cell aspect of the innovation, that will help track the specific source of the mobile signal giving lead to the culprit.

Further, the student says the mobile detector will also identify the specific type of mobile phone responsible for making a given type of communication in an exam room, and will detect phones ranging from 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks that are currently in or poised to operate in the Kenyan market.

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If it detects a mobile phone that has been switched on during an examination session, the student says the gadget either produces some sound or light beams to alert the supervisor of the illegal act underway.

According to Prof. Odote, the innovation is based on the principles of electromagnetic induction, a law in physics discovered by Michael Faraday that defines the behavior of an induced electromagnetic field from the magnetic flux (change in a magnetic field).

And to protect intellectual property rights of the innovation from keen observers who would want to reap proceeds without sweating to develop it, the professor says he has already patented the gadget at the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI).

“The registration of patents is a process which takes note of every step you make in the development of an innovation from infancy to product phase. We are still at a stage where we’re perfecting the gadget,” he refers.

“We don’t want such innovations to lose royalties and go unrewarded. This is something that can impact huge in the education sector.”

Once fully developed, Mutegi says, the mobile detector can either work with or integrate certain features of the closed-circuit television (CCTV), in a coalition where whilst the CCTV will offer video surveillance, the detector will alert supervisors on exam leaks through sound or light beams.

“The devices will be interfaced with computers using programmed microcontroller to be monitored by the exam supervisors from the comfort of their offices,” he forecast, saying this would seriously reduce cases of exam leakage which has for decades ailed Kenya’s Education Ministry.

Last year, Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’I introduced a raft of measures to curb exam cheating following massive irregularities that saw the results of about 2,709 primary and 5,100 secondary school candidates cancelled the previous year.

He had to ban all social activities in third term, shorten the period for Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams (KCSE) from six weeks to four and put head teachers directly in charge of the tests in their schools, this in an effort to reflect credible results.

There was also a proposal to use CCTV surveillance cameras during the examination process.

But Prof. Odote says supporting technological innovation can remedy some of these perennial challenges in the education sector, clarifying that the sector’s cabinet secretary has already acknowledged their innovation and given it go-ahead.

“The CS is aware of what we’re doing here and he’s glad the gadget would save government huge resources spent to curb leakages during examination periods,” he beams, urging science and technology commissions such as the National Commission for Science and Technology (NACOSTI) to focus more on supporting innovators.

As a parting shot, Mutegi says his vision is to see the mobile detector through to commercial viability, creating an impact in schools.

 

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