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The culture of cheating

Published Apr 30, 2012 06:00pm

Whilst sipping tea and having a late night conversation with a cousin who recently appeared for Secondary School Certificate (SSC) Examination, I was ‘enlightened’ with her insightful information pertaining to the latest techniques of cheating in exams.

According to her writing behind financial calculators, creating innovative signs to communicate which answer is correct in multiple choice questions and bringing crib sheets to the examination rooms, which I must admit were quite popular whilst I was a student, have now officially become obsolete. The new-age technology has brought with it, among many things, advancement in the modus operandi of cheaters as well.

“Students bring mobile phones and other gadgets to cheat now. Although I must admit that the invigilation in our examination centre was strict and the invigilators were not accomplices, students still managed to get away with cheating quite easily,” said my cousin with strict instructions to keep her identity confidential.

The reprehensible state of affairs in our educational sphere is hardly a closely guarded secret. Every year, the beginning of examinations is a bugle-call to prospective cheaters to gear up and look for ingenious ways to get through in exams with ‘flying colours’.

Incidents reporting students running with books in their hands when vigilance teams strike, invigilators accepting bribes and impersonation of candidates have clearly made headlines in all major publications and media cells of Pakistan.

However, what remains to be addressed is the crux of the issue: the rationale behind why students actually cheat. Is it the social pressure which leaves them no option but to cheat and ace exams? Is it the lack of aptitude and interest for a specific course and discipline which makes them seek refuge in crib sheets? Is it our educational system which emphasises more on rote learning hence providing students with ample opportunities to cheat and score high?

Perhaps the pressure to get enrolled in top-notch colleges makes children cheat in schools. Later on, in order to get into the best universities, students feel inclined to cheat in college and then students cheat in universities because a good Grade Point Average (GPA) helps in landing a good job and so the cycle never breaks. In fact, the habit of cheating becomes so integral that most of the time it is not even considered inappropriate.

According to Karthik Naralasetty, a college dropout and currently an entrepreneur who founded Socialblood, said, “Students cheat because nobody likes the embarrassment of failing. I cheated because I was afraid that my parents would get upset of my failure. I cheated because I wanted to fit in with the ‘good students’.”

“I stopped once I realised that the 40/100 that I scored by studying and utilising my own intellect was more satisfying than the 80/100 which I scored by cheating,” added Naralasetty.

Social pressure perhaps is not the only reason why students resort to cheating. Hectic work schedules and unreasonable deadlines to deliver projects add on to the woes of students urging them to cheat and plagiarise.

Plagiarism, which is considered one of the most crucial reasons of expulsion from universities and schools in United States, remains the most underreported issue in Pakistan. Students conveniently ‘copy and paste’ term papers from various online sites and present it to the academic staff for approval. Most of the time they get away with it, however, there are times when software used to detect plagiarised content can highlight that the work is copied from another source. Very few academic institutes expel students for plagiarism as most of the students are let go after they are given a warning to be careful in the future.

In retrospect, I personally believe that the culture of cheating and plagiarising was taught to each one of us. We were encouraged to memorise essays and other textbook material whereas ‘using your own words’ was always off-limits as it was considered a reason the examiner was expected to deduct marks.

Quantity always superseded quality which is why Quaid-e-Azam’s most famous 14 points and the debate of Kashmir issue made students scribble away pointlessly on bundles of papers. The fact that each one of us was made to believe in rote learning, rather than exploring our intellects, makes us all believe that we are incapable of thinking rationally. The sheer lack of confidence is another motivator to cheat.

Nazifa Khan, a lawyer and currently a student of environmental policy at Australian National University (ANU) said, “I think these days there is so much of a culture of group work that people really don’t have the confidence to rely on their own independent efforts hence I think most people don’t intentionally cheat. They just glance at the other person’s work to ensure that they are on the right track.”

“I think it is more of a want to reconfirm-rather than cheat, however, it should still not happen,” she added.

Looking for justifications to rationalise cheating in any form is one of the reasons why our educational system never prospers. The fact that various socio-political and economic issues affecting us are blamed on a lack of education makes no sense when the content and standard of education are tethering on such low levels.

Perhaps the omnipresence of ‘educated illiterates’ can also be attributed to the sub-standard curriculum and failure to implement policies pertaining to proper check and balances.

Cheating incidents will continue to make headlines unless the curriculum is revised and the abhorrent practice of rote learning abolished.


Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com