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Should a female test taker be able to insist on a female proctor?

05 Jun 2020

Posted by Angela O’Leary, VP of Sales, EMEA and APAC

I’m Questionmark’s VP of Sales for EMEA and APAC, and don’t usually write for this blog, but wanted to raise an important fairness and equity issue.

The Covid pandemic has seen a huge uptake in online proctoring. Increasingly tests are taken at home or in an office with an online proctor observing the test by video on the test taker’s webcam. The proctor checks that the person is who they say they are and checks that the test is taken with integrity.

It’s vitally important that online proctored tests are secure. But it’s also important that online proctoring is fair and equitable for all test takers, and that test takers rights are respected. I’d like to highlight one particular equity issue which I think the industry needs to get right. Many Muslim women wear a hijab (veil, headscarf or other face covering) as part of a religious obligation.  A hijab or headscarf is worn to maintain modesty and privacy, particularly from unrelated males. And of course it would not be appropriate for such a person to take off her hijab in front of a male proctor.

It’s down to test sponsors to set the rules and for testing vendors like Questionmark to follow their instructions. A test sponsor has a sensitive decision to make as to whether it requires someone to remove head coverings during identification to check that the person is who she says is. But if a test sponsor does want to ensure that the person is identified by partially removing their headscarf or hijab, I think the test taker must have the right to insist on a female proctor. Since for a male proctor to be able to view a person without their hijab breaks what many consider to be their religious and moral code. It’s important that tests are open to people of all genders, races and religions.

I was disappointed to read a recent news story (BPTC student ‘forced to defer’ exams over fears she’d have to remove headscarf for male invigilator) where a female student for the UK bar exams had to defer her exam because she would have to remove her headscarf in front of a male proctor. I don’t know all the facts of this particular case, but if the news report is true, this sounds extremely unfair.

I’d like to encourage the testing industry to offer women who have genuine religious or moral concerns around being viewed by a male proctor to be able to request a female proctor. After all half the world’s population are women, and although guaranteeing a female proctor may involve a bit more logistical effort, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

I’m pleased to report that Questionmark is sometimes asked by test takers or test sponsors to provide a female proctor for some of its female Muslim test takers using our Questionmark Proctoring Online service. We have done this in the past and we are able to do this in the future. I’d encourage test sponsors to expect this – it seems part of the human decency and respect for test taker rights that we as a community should be promoting.

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