An embarrassing ranking on the Trans- parency International’s Corruption Perception Index tells us where to start whenever, and if at all, we decide to begin our return journey. Controversially, the first place where children learn to cheat happens to be the class examination. Even more worrisome is that fact that they are almost always rewarded for that, making them walk with their heads held high. This stimulates the belief that unfair means are justified for high goals.
The cycle continues, and society keeps degenerating as corruption becomes a norm. Sounds familiar, right?
Why do students cheat? This has been an intriguing question for researchers around the world. At home, the reprehensible state of affairs is not a particularly guarded secret.
Every year, the beginning of examinations is a bugle call to prospective cheaters to gear up and look for in genious ways to get through 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 made headlines, and that continues to be the case.
Many factors contribute to this cycle. However, an educational system based on rote learning is the reason behind this menace. The pressure to get enrolled in top-notch colleges makes children cheat in schools. Later, in order to get into the best universities, students feel inclined to cheat in college exams
In universities, students mostly cheat because a good grade point average (GPA) is considered helpful in landing a good job. The habit of cheating becomes so integral that it is often not even considered inappropriate.
For many students, the system is actual the monster. Research indicates that students are cut out of conversations about school policies and culture.
On their part, the teachers care about cheating because it is not fair that students get good grades when they have not followed the teacher’s rules, a student at a university in Lahore told me recently.
Peer pressure is also a factor that makes students cheat to prove themselves to be the smartest in the class or they want to seem ‘cool’ in the eyes of their friends, or try to impress those around them.
A course correction is needed. This will not only help students see a better version of themselves, but will also save immense resources spent on the futile exercise of invigilation. A school where cheating is not necessary would be centred around individualisation and learning. Students would learn and be tested on their knowledge. Teaching should be outcome-based rather than content-based. What is learnt by the students has to be more important than what is taught by the teacher.
For universities, open-book exams can be an effective antidote to dealing with the plague of cheating. This way of teaching would not be about time-crunching every lesson, but more about helping a student understand a concept.
Most importantly, students must not be afraid of making mistakes while learning. The evaluation should be progress-based rather than glorifying the final result without focussing on the process involved. Besides competing in the class, collaboration must be equally stressed.
In American universities, the grades and marks of the students are kept confidential. Marks are communicated to them through personal portals. This helps the students not to adopt unfair means under peer pressure and focus on learning rather than reaching for the correct answer by hook or by crook.
It is time for educational institutions to focus more on learning rather than using marks as the only criterion for gauging a student’s ability. I was told by a successful entrepreneur with modest grades that he stopped cheating in exams once he realised that the 40 out of 100 that he scored by studying and utilising his own intellect was more satisfying than the 80 out of 100 which he earlier used to score by cheating.
Social pressure perhaps is not the only reason why students resort to cheating. Hectic work schedules and unreasonable deadlines to deliver projects add to the woes of students, forcing them in a way to cheat and plagiarise. Therefore, they must be taught work-life balance from an early age.
To curb corruption in society, ethical reforms are needed in educational institutions. Without attending to the students’ emotional, social and psycho-logical needs, we will never be able to create a cheating-free culture in society.
MUHAMMAD ALI FALAK