March 11, 2011

Medical entrance exam goes biometric to stop imposters

A tiny device, no larger than a TV Remote, will check a rampant Indian examination malpractice —impersonation — in the high-stakes JIPMER (Jawaharlal Institute of Post-graduate Medical Education and Research) entrance exams being held countrywide on Sunday.

The device called AuthenTrac will capture fingerprints and photographs of each of the 15,000 candidates across dozens of exam centres in five cities in real-time, matching it with previously-stored candidate data from the institution. The data will be re-checked at the time of counselling and seat allotment.

The technological innovation will curb exam impersonators, giving the meritorious a fair shot at securing a coveted spot in the 120 post-graduate medical seats at the Puducherry-based JIPMER, one of the top medical schools in India.

AuthenTrac has been developed and is offered as a service by Bangalore-based testing and skills assessment company MeritTrac, which counts Microsoft, Accenture, ICICI Bank and the governments of Gujarat and Orissa amongst its customers. Its AuthenTrac device is pending a patent.

Even though the number of exam imposters caught is low, the potential for masquerading is as much as 15 percent, says Madan Padaki, CEO of MeritTrac. “The current process to nail impersonation is weak because it relies on easily forge-able signatures and photographs which can be smudgy and grainy,” says Padaki, adding, “There is very little chance in this system of the impersonators being caught.”

The new device has huge ramifications in populous India where the demand-supply gap in education and employment is skewed and high-stakes tests have lifelong consequences. Now, technology could help stave off a challenge that India’s institutions have faced for decades.

The potential for masquerading on behalf of candidates is as mind-boggling as the scale of testing itself, says Padaki. Annually, 10 million students take the qualifying exams to win coveted engineering, medical and MBA seats in colleges. Some 20 million applicants take exams to qualify for public sector and bank jobs each year. A further 30 million appear for exams to secure central and state government jobs.

AuthenTrac has already been deployed as a pilot by a leading Indian energy PSU where thousands of candidates took exams for jobs. Padaki says his company will target 5 million candidate authentications in the next three years.

At Sunday’s exam, invigilators will take the hand-held device—equipped with a fingerprint scanner, camera and barcode—to each candidate. They will capture the left and right ring finger prints as well as take a photograph of each candidate. They will match the signature and photo with the candidate’s application data.

The process will be minimally intrusive and take a couple of minutes. The device has time stamps for every authentication action, providing a rich audit trail for later use or for RTI queries, if any. The data is stored in a high-security data center. MeritTrac’s solution costs a few hundred rupees per candidate.

The captured data can be subsequently used to re-authenticate the candidate at the time of interviews, subsequent exams or, as in the case of JIPMER, seat allocation.

Link: Original Article

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