Widespread cheating in secondary and higher secondary schools is one of the major barriers affecting the quality of education. On the one hand, it promotes a culture of academic dishonesty, while, on the other, prevents true merit from reaching the position it deserves.
There are several reasons why cheating remains deeply entrenched and prevalent in our educational institutions. From the policymakers to teachers and students, it seems everyone is involved in this objectionable practice.
One of the major factors behind this phenomenon is the flawed recruitment process through which teachers are appointed. In Pakistan, teachers’ recruitment is based on the results of an objective test that usually has questions on a few major subjects, such as Science, Math and English. Previously, a candidate had to obtain a minimum of 60 per cent marks to pass the test, but it has been brought down recently to a mere 40pc. Those who clear the test are sent straight to the classrooms to teach.
A written test is not enough to gauge competence in subject matter. Besides, how can someone with no teaching experience or with no prior pedagogical training be expected to teach while ensuring the right learning outcome? Caught between an incompetent instructor and the risk of failing their own exams, students resort to unfair means.
Meanwhile, another factor that aids, if not promotes, the cheating culture is its acceptance by society. Many invigilators are seen not just ignoring but encouraging the use of unfair means during examinations in exchange for favours. Teachers with the right credentials and students confident of their abilities would never be part of such practices.
Moreover, the methods used to put an end to cheating during exams are also half-hearted and insincere. Teams assigned by education boards to pay surprise visits to examination centres make for good optics, but are practically useless in addressing the root causes of the problem.
The culture of cheating is not, however, restricted to exams alone. The roots of this practice and its prevalence are in the culture of corruption in society, as is evident by the fact that A1 grade can be secured easily by paying the ‘right’ official the ‘right’ amount.
This menace cannot be addressed without severe accountability of officials involved in selling merit for a price. There is also the need to reform the way classrooms are managed. Teachers should be assessed on the subject matter they teach, and be asked to submit regular lesson plans, methodology of teaching, and ways of maintaining their daily portfolios of students.
Teachers should also ensure that each and every student in class, especially the weaker ones, gets equal attention with regular coordination with parents about their performances.
For examinations, it should be ensured that invigilators are always someone not previously known to the students, while no other teacher or outsider should be allowed to enter the centre during the examinations.
Cheating cannot be addressed by hotchpotch policies. Truly addressing the problem would require everyone connected with the education system from parents to education officials and education activists to openly denounce the practice and campaign actively to make the whole thing socially unacceptable.
ALI GUL LEGHARI