Internet disruptions registered during school exams

This report documents nation-scale internet disruptions during the 2023 school exam calendar, along with policy observations and recommendations geared toward countering the practice of internet shutdowns that are intended to prevent school exam leaks and cheating.

Iraq – August 2023

On 21 August, a new nation-scale internet disruption was registered across most of Iraq, marking the onset of the second round of exams, with the first being in June. The measure once again covers most of the country including Baghdad but excluding the northern Kurdistan Region.

Syria – August 2023

On the morning of Thursday, 10 August 2023, Syria implemented a new internet shutdown lasting some 4 hours as a measure to secure the distribution of school exam papers as a means to limit corruption and cheating.

Northern Iraq – August 2023

From 6 August 2023, the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq has imposed daytime internet shutdowns between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. during the second round of high school exams, by order of the Ministry of Transport and Communications of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Shutdowns have so far been observed on the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th of August.

Algeria – June 2023

From 11 June 2023, Algeria has implemented the nation-scale throttling of internet connectivity impacting many online services. Traffic data indicate two disruptions per day, matching morning and afternoon Baccalaureate examination times. The incidents are consistent with measures used by Algeria during exam periods in previous years.

Iraq – June 2023

On 1 June 2023, a nation-scale internet disruption has been registered in Iraq marking the first day of final exams in public and private universities and colleges per the published schedule. The measure has continued on subsequent exam days, and covers most of the country including Baghdad but excluding the northern Kurdistan Region. The shutdowns each last four hours between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. local time, and are consistent with measures established in previous years to prevent leaks and cheating in exams.

Syria – May 2023 / June 2023

NetBlocks metrics confirm wide-scale disruptions to internet connectivity in Syria from the morning of 24 May 2023, as the first round of exams get under way.

The two days of network outages begin before 4 a.m. local time each morning and last some four hours, and are consistent with known measures the authorities use to prevent leaks and cheating in school exams.

On 24 May 2023, Syria’s Ministry of Education commenced national practical and lab exams as per its published schedule, matching the onset of these internet disruptions. The official exam period extends into the summer and further instances are expected.

Syria’s Ministry of Education announced the exam period beginning with practical and lab exams from Wednesday, 24 May 2023 (source: moed.gov.sy)

Nation-scale internet blackouts have resumed from 25 June with the onset of national exams:

Addressing internet blackouts during exams

Around the globe, governments periodically impose internet shutdowns during school exams under the pretext of curbing malpractices. These acts, often severe and prolonged, disrupt digital rights, impede access to information, and create a ripple effect impacting social, economic, and civic life.

Impacts

  1. Economic: Internet shutdowns carry an enormous economic cost, disrupting digital economies and inhibiting the growth of sectors dependent on the internet.
  2. Societal: Shutdowns create information blackouts, leading to reduced transparency and accountability, hampering crisis communication, and inhibiting social and civic participation.
  3. Human Rights: They violate the fundamental right to information, freedom of expression, and privacy, undermining democratic principles.
  4. Educational: Online learning resources, a crucial support for today’s digitally-oriented education, become inaccessible during shutdowns. Students miss out on the ability to revise for upcoming exams during the exam period.

Recommendations

  1. Promote Transparency: Advocate for governments to be transparent about their internet management policies, highlighting the adverse effects of shutdowns on society.
  2. Enforce Digital Rights: Lobby for the recognition of internet access as a fundamental human right, advocating for legal frameworks that protect this right.
  3. Engage Stakeholders: Collaborate with educational institutions, civil society organizations, and international bodies to raise awareness about the harmful impact of internet shutdowns.
  4. Support Technological Advancement: Develop and promote technology solutions to counter internet shutdowns, ensuring continuous access to information during these periods.
  5. Advocate Independent Internet Measurement: Push for the establishment of independent, objective, and comprehensive internet measurement. Monitoring the status of internet connectivity should not be under governmental control or influence, ensuring that reporting is unbiased and reflective of actual internet accessibility. By using technology developed by organizations like NetBlocks, this measurement can provide an unaltered picture of the state of internet shutdowns, contributing to the credibility of reports and strengthening advocacy efforts.

NetBlocks recommends against the use of network disruptions and social media restrictions to counter exam cheating, given their disproportionate impact to internet users including to their freedom of expression and digital prosperity.

Further reading:


Methodology

NetBlocks diffscans, which map the IP address space of a country in real time, show internet connectivity levels and corresponding outages. Purposeful internet outages may have a distinct network pattern used by NetBlocks to determine and attribute the root cause of an outage, a process known as attribution which follows detection and classification stages.

This report uses third-party internet measurement data from the "Google Transparency" data source. Learn more about the NetBlocks TPD program and integrations.


NetBlocks is an internet monitor working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives to deliver a fair and inclusive digital future for all.

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