Drug testing in the examination hall?
It’s early in the morning, and you are about to sit an examination. You didn’t sleep well last night. You are tired, and you honestly cannot remember much about your subject. You are nervous. To steady your nerves you drink a strong cup of coffee. Stop! re you taking a drug there that may enhance your powers? You’ll be disqualified.
Does that sound fanciful? Perhaps, but what if you took a neuro-enhacing smart drug, perhaps the cerebral equivalent of the sportsman’s steroids? Now are you cheating? Or a can of Red Bull?
A senior lecturer in Pharmacology in Trinity College Dublin, Dr Andrew Harkin, has according to a report in the Irish Independent suggested that this amounts to cheating. Clearly one would not want to encourage the use of drugs for any reason, including this one, and where such use is illegal it should have the consequences set out in the law. But is it ‘cheating’? Are examinations a competitive sport? Neither caffeine nor drugs upload information to your brain. You will only answer what you know.
I believe that the approach suggested byDr Harkin is misguided. Rather, we need to look again at the culture of cut-throat competition and the unnerving of students by the expectations of families, their peers and the wider society. Learning is important, but it should never be intimidating. We need to look again at the whole culture of higher education, and thereby make it less attractive for students to consider drugs. And I suspect they might sleep easier at night before the exams.