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The culture of cheating

Published Apr 30, 2012 06:00pm


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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


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (24) Closed

KDP May 01, 2012 03:29pm
My father who was in college during the last decade of British Rule told us that the question paper in the examination always had name of the person who was assigned to evaluate answer papers. Nobody dared to contact that person to influence. I sometimes wonder what made the same generation and one that followed became corrupt immediately after independence? Do we always need a STICK to behave?
Masood Hussain May 03, 2012 06:20pm
I watched a vedio casette on cheating in exams in Japan.It leaves every effort at cheating way behind,may be it is pakistan or U.S.A or any other place.
Tahir Apr 30, 2012 09:32pm
This blog is nicely written covering many aspects related to cheating. I have been a student as well as a teacher in both local and foreign instituitions. The biggest factor is our social thinking where failure is something which is unacceptable and the attitute of the society towards someone failing is inappropriate. Instead of considering a failure a learning process and helping people out it is treated like a sin. To add oil to fire, many of the instituitions do not accept a person who failed in any of the courses during his/her previous academic history even if the overall performance is good. Furhtermore, there is also a need for training and retraining of the existing educationalist to change the current situaiton.
Sikander Khan Apr 30, 2012 06:40pm
Are you sure? I and others have cheated in O/A levels. It has nothing to do with the quality of education like British or American standard that one receive in Pakistan, I think cheating is another issue to be dealt with and yes I also blame the teachers (Grammar ones too) for making it easier for us students.
baakhlaq Apr 30, 2012 06:43pm
Ms.Faiza has pointed out the right factors for the poor educational standards but I feel bringing changes only in the syllabus will not solve the problem as we need revolutionizing our whole approach towards education. in our set-up people get education simply to get jobs and they are least interested in the learning process.our teachers and parents become perfectionists and show zero tolerance towards mistakes whereas, mistakes are always a sign of learning.
Anwar Iqbal Apr 30, 2012 02:16pm
Faiza Mirza wrote: “Cheating incidents will continue to make headlines unless the curriculum is revised and the abhorrent practice of rote learning abolished.” Absolutely, right on the mark! Let me share my experience. Once in school, we were all asked to write an essay on “My goal in life.” The teacher gave us some model essays, stating why I wanted to be a doctor, engineer or a government official, etc. He urged us to memorise at least one of the essays and then reproduce it during the class test. I disagreed with all suggested professions and wrote why I wanted to be a politician. Obviously, it was not as well-written as those given by the teacher, which included quotes from famous people, verses of the Holy Quran, etc. My essay was what it should have been for a kid in early teens (13, if I remember right). It had mistakes but I felt proud that what I wrote was different from all other essays. It was my own essay and not a reproduction of what the teacher gave us. The teacher thought otherwise. I was ridiculed before the entire class for "pretending to be different."
Zafar Apr 30, 2012 05:57pm
Mr Anwar Iqbal's story reminded me of one when I was not 13, but a Freshman at University of Karachi. Our English Professor (remember that, we were taking English as a compulsory subject and all of us were majoring in Physics) on the first or second day asked us to write one page ABOUT ANY TOPIC YOU LIKE. This was a big surprise for every one of us. We were accustomed to write on 'My Best Friend' or 'My Country' or 'My First Day at School', but ANY topic? How do you write about any topic? More than 50% were not able to write even 2 lines. They kept on thinking 'what' to write about. Not more than 4 or 5 students (out of around 65) were able to write a couple of paragraphs on a coherent topic. Others wrote 2 lines on one topic, two lines on an entirely different topic and so on and that too full of glaring grammatical mistakes. These people had atleast 70% marks in Intermediate exams. Something needs to be done at our SSC and HSC level and probably earlier.
Zehra Apr 30, 2012 09:55am
I agree with Ms. Faiza that cheating is like a plague which is ruining our youth. They are not believing on their own skills and expertise to learn and instead are relying on cheating to pass in exams. Once when such so-called 'literate' youth comes into professional fields, they destroy themselves as well as affect others badly e.g. Doctors....
GhulamRasool Soomro May 01, 2012 10:11am
No need to revise the curriculum, we have not learnt from history, we have to change ourself, some time we change time , uniform and curricuylum in shap of rearranging the chapters, all institute related to evaluation and teaching and learnind are polluted by corrupt peoples. boardofices have no credibility of result because a student who secure A-i grad in intermediat or matric he got -ve marks in entry tests of proffesional institutions, we should work for introduction of merit, all secondary problems woud be solved,
Nishtar Apr 30, 2012 09:01am
Cheating in examinations is breaking the law. It is usually the first crime committed by most of these individuals. It is hard to break the law first time, but it becomes easer the next time and instinctive the third time. Cheating has eroded the values of Pakistani society . It is like Opium- once you get hooked, it is difficult to quit. Cheating is the narcotic that is most pervasive in Pakistan and the one that has hollowed out the very foundations of this country . Every one in Pakistan has been or is or will become a cheater .
Sandip Apr 30, 2012 07:23pm
Well I agree with social pressure related to cheating. I had tried cheating couple fo times till I ended up in university. I guess I became more enlightened that the subjects I dont really know about I just need to get my 40 marks (actually 37 and in two of them I can even get 28 which gets me to 40). So well thats what I went for. So the subjects I liked I scored 80+ and subjects I didn't like I was @ 40+. It was fun. In the end it didn't make any difference to the job that I am doing now. I never worked in the branch of engineering I graduated in. And after that I even left that kind of work and doing totally different. I think education helped me provide foundation to understand and analyze the issues that I face in my work life now then actually working out if the current is +5V or -5V. Though at some point it did facinate me and still does, but money is more better in what I do.
KDP May 01, 2012 03:23pm
I agree 100%. Cheating and immoral practices in Education, Business and in several social activities is a norm in all South Asian countries. I reside in the USA I laugh when elder migrants talk about our "Superior" culture back home. The only moral we seem to have or insist our children to observe is not to have sex and not marry a person of different religion or a person of same religion belonging to "Different" group.
abdulaziz May 01, 2012 10:39pm
I thought cheating was unislamic, and muslims, especially the Pakistani muslims, never cheated.
Usman Shahid May 01, 2012 11:51am
Till the people feel pride in writing the degree with their names, this system will keep on continue. PhD doesn't make any one more genius than others. Thomas edison and many other true scientist never get formal education but their work was more valuable.
Tahir PhD Apr 30, 2012 01:09pm
What amazed me was an incident where a girl was seen holding the Quran, reading from it and writing the answer. How more blatant and callous can cheating get, especially on a subject which itself upholds the principle of fairness.
Agha Ata Apr 30, 2012 01:13pm
Ms.Mirza, I was amused to see the term "educated illiterates" in your article, I have often used my own term “uneducated ignorant” and “educated ignorant" No doubt we have them in our society, and they are in a big number. If they could form a political party it would be the biggest in the country. I have met scores of these people, educated and uneducated, students, businessmen, parents, and their children . . . . Sometimes they do not even stop to think, if it was cheating. "Mr. Agha My son has come on leave, do you know a doctor who could give a certificate that my son is sick, to extend his leave?" A very pious bearded, and a very respectful member of a family asked me once. He was looking at me with confidence and had an impression on his face that by asking me for this favour he was giving me an honour. Now I am wondering, if we need a Siacchan- sized- cultural revolution for years, perhaps!
Mir May 02, 2012 01:24pm
They can, and they cerainly do. In exam venues, school candidates are grouped in columns, and thus allows relatively easy chance to communicate during exams. However, i think cheating, in any form, on SAT tests is more difficult due to the inherent nature of how the tests booklets are arranged and exams written.
Zehra May 01, 2012 07:01pm
It's sad but I barely passed in first year exams in college in Pakistan and am doing quite well in my school in the US. We should be stressed to write our own answers highlighting our own train of thoughts in brief paragraphs rather than doing the same chapters over and over again which our parents did.
Minhas Apr 30, 2012 04:04pm
I think that the psyche of the nation has to change otherwise we are already descending into chaos. My experience doing invigilation in private medical and engineering college was eye opening for me. The students used to have highly innovative ideas of cheating and even if caught red handily just used to get a slap on the wrist. For two or a group of students talking in the exam, there is no law at all since there is no evidence so just utter the pathetic word “stop talking” Extreme degradation of the society and parent’s are to be blamed for this. In west general perception is “Everybody is honest, prove otherwise” and in our country “Everybody is corrupt, prove otherwise”. We are going down head on.
Irtaza Apr 30, 2012 01:38pm
Good article.Well at least A-level students can't cheat.
Aghha Ata Apr 30, 2012 02:45pm
If they help anyone else, that is cheating, too.
Khan May 01, 2012 12:09am
In our beloved country, we are all cheating each other. Our morals and ethics is completely gone. If we look around there is a sea of of people trying to cheat each penny out of others lives. Once out of the school, these kids will treat us in the hospitals. These people will be our lawyers, financial advisors and in fact run our country. Look what are we sowing for our future. Please wake up and see what monster are we creating for ourselves.
Usman Shahid May 01, 2012 08:17am
Keeping the exams just the test of memory, cheating will keep on continue. Just like Denmark, we have to think out of the box, Denmark even provided the internet in the exam rooms and develop the papers which check the abilities not the memory. Only this way you can get rid of cheating.
Naveed Ahmed May 05, 2012 06:17pm
I totally agree with you.