Iraq shuts down entire country's internet to prevent exam cheating
Students attend a class at the Shahid Nasseri refugee camp, 130km southwest of Tehran. Nationwide internet outages appear to be a common approach taken by some international governments to curb cheating Getty Images

Iraq has shut down the entire country's internet in efforts to prevent students from cheating in exams. Evidence suggests that the Iraqi government has been periodically shutting down the internet and the timing coincides with the final exams for sixth graders. This is believed to be the second year in a row that the government has blocked access to the internet in the days leading up to and during the exams.

According to internet performance management firm Dyn Research, who tracked the web outages in the country, access to the internet in Iraq was completely unavailable between 5am and 8am from 14-16 May. The pattern of the outages is similar to those that occurred in 2015, as ordered by the Iraqi government. Then, as now, the outages coincided with the sixth grade final exams.

Doug Madory, Dyn's internet analysis director, told Voactive: "There was certainly a lot of skepticism about this explanation last summer, but the outages did coincide with exams and nothing emerged to dispute the explanation."

A leaked email by Iraqi ISP, obtained by Lebanon based technology and human rights group SMEX, specified the timings of the outages. The service provider also posted on a Facebook page warning the country that access to the internet would be blocked. The announcement read: "As per the Ministry of Communications and ITPC [Iraqi Telecommunications and Post Company] instructions, please be informed that all the Circuits will be shutdown tomorrow 15-5-2016 by the ITPC in the period from 5:00AM to 8:00AM. During this time all the Internet connectivity will be turned off in all regions of Iraq."

Wondering why the Iraqi government chose to take such a drastic step just for sixth grade finals? The reason why preventing sixth graders from cheating is such a high priority to the government is because, according to Iraqi law, education is compulsory only till the 6th grade. As a result, the pressure is fairly high on sixth graders to score well, as those who don't make the cut are almost definitely pulled out of school.

As an anonymous source explained: "What happens usually is that some teachers would be giving the exams questions to students who pay money, then [those] students would sell online questions all over country. Between 5am to 8am [is when teachers finalize questions] so this is the time when teachers [who have been paid off would] give questions to students by Facebook or Viber or Whatsapp and so on."

Coincidentally, Iraq is not the only government to take such a drastic step in order to prevent students from cheating. In 2014, Uzbekistan enforced a nationwide internet outage to curb cheating. More recently, the Indian state of Gujarat in February also implemented a similar approach by blocking mobile services for several hours before an annual accounts industry exam. Internet freedom activist group Access Now's senior global advocacy manager Deji Olukotun said: "We see this, especially in such a destabilized country as Iraq, as really terrible. It's a lot of people under a media and communications blackout."