New Year Wishes

We wish all our members and readers a harmonious, untroubled, fulfilling 2013, in which we face different challenges which help us stretch and evolve/grow/develop, in which we make new mistakes from which we learn to act with more wisdom. These quotes will surely resonate with many of your feelings:

  • Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. Kurt Vonnegut
  • Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. Maya Angelou

With the pressure to get good grades being so high and examples of cheaters ‘getting away with it,’ is it any surprise that cheating is so rampant in schools around Pakistan? In this article, Shahrezad Samiuddin explores what you can do to curb this menace and more importantly how you can encourage a more ethical environment.

A student sneaks a quick look at his neighbour’s test. Another has important facts written on his hand to help him during the test. Still another has taken pains to make tiny notes on small bits of paper and is stealthily peeking at them, while another lifts entire papers off the internet to hand in plagiarised assignments. Because of the secrecy that surrounds the whole act it is nearly impossible to find someone who admits to cheating. Yet as teachers you probably have a good idea of how prevalent the problem is and have probably heard or seen someone cheat during a test or a game or perhaps during a sporting event. It is a problem that plagues the educational system and is so widespread that it affects almost all grade-levels in a school. In fact, often cheating is a group effort in schools with several students involved in it.

The results of the TRC website’s opinion poll this past month should give you some idea of why many of you think children cheat. Most seem to agree that cheating is mainly the result of the pressure parents and academic institutions put on their students to get good grades. Any other reasons that anyone puts across for cheating, such as laziness and the unwillingness to work hard, usually have their roots firmly embedded in this basic reason.

Are we Rewarding Cheaters?

It is important here to also consider the general environment that our children are growing up in. There is almost a silent sanction in society for those who commit crimes and are allowed to get away with it. Even those who are punished and condemned are often let off lightly with consequences that are not commensurate with the crime. If the way of the ‘real world’ condones cheating, young people are constantly receiving the message that it is somehow ‘okay’ to bend the rules.

Furthermore, since competition is almost part and parcel of any school system, getting ahead in the grades game, rather than real learning seems to be the focus of most students’ lives. Frequently we find that it is the student who has cracked the system, rather than the real learner who gets the advantage in this ‘race’.

Who Has the Time?

Take the life of a regular student going to a good school in a big city. He leads a busy life packed with after-school activities and socializing. Who has time to research that History assignment … right? To top it all he knows his parents will throw a fit if he receives a bad grade in even one assignment. Now what would prevent the child from googling a website and copy pasting his way to the creation of an assignment in 45 minutes? Packed schedules, overbearing and demanding parents and the World Wide Web at their fingertips … what, apart from a strong conscience, will prevent a child from cheating, when “everyone else is doing it”? To make matters worse, often children are rewarded with money or some other tangible rewards at home when they do well in school. This sends out a strong message that getting an A-grade, rather than really learning something is what gets rewarded.

Reinforcing the Wrongness of Cheating

But all is not lost in the battle against cheating. The most effective way of dealing with cheating remains establishing good habits at an age when children’s moral values are developing. If you work with young children you already know that they have a readymade strong innate sense of right and wrong. However while younger children know that they are not to look at anyone else’s work during a spelling test, they may not realise that copying a friend’s homework also counts as cheating.

And so this is the time to start reinforcing the ‘wrongness’ of cheating. This is the stage when teachers should define different types of cheating and also talk about the reasons why it is wrong. Keep reminding students that cheating is like lying and stealing. The work or test that someone has cheated on is literally ‘lying to’ and misleading the teacher. Another thing to keep reinforcing in class is about how unfair it is to someone who has worked hard on an assignment or studied hard for a test, to end up with the same or lower grade than someone who cheated. Also stress the fact that by cheating a student breaches her teachers’ and other students’ trust. Ask them that if they get caught, how would they ever be able regain their teacher’s, classmates or even parents’ trust. And how will they explain the ‘zero’ they receive or the call to the principal’s office, to their parents?

Stress the fact that even if they do get away with it, at the end of the day, the cheater is basically cheating himself, because he hasn’t really learnt anything. And since topics in the curriculum are often interconnected and build on each other, the student is not very likely to learn later lessons either. For instance, if a child cheats on a multiplication test, because he never learnt his tables, he’ll be in hot water when the long division test comes around which depends almost entirely on the knowledge of multiplication tables. And so he is likely to cheat more to cover up for cheating in the past.

As a teacher and even as a parent you can use your position to role model for your students and children as you are almost constantly sending them messages. So for instance when a harried canteenwala accidently gives you more change than he should have, make sure you return it promptly and use the opportunity to talk about it, ‘I would end up with more change than I deserve, but that wouldn’t be right, just like someone who cheats to get a grade they haven’t really earned.’

Be on the lookout for moments to talk about cheating. When role models make mistakes and fall from grace, such as cricketers caught in match-fixing scandals, make sure you condemn the act and also reinforce the fact that they have brought shame to their nation and their family because of cheating.

Work with the students on developing a list of rules focused on cheating and other poor behaviour. When students have a hand in putting together the list, they will be more likely to enforce it. To help them decide whether an act is wrong or right, encourage them to ask themselves whether they would want that particular action advertised on a billboard or announced to their friends, family and acquaintances on social media.

Get parents involved in the prevention of cheating. It’s quite common for parents to ‘help’ their children a tad more than they ought to when it comes to homework. This also counts as cheating and it is imperative that you have a discussion with parents about the lines they may be tempted to cross. Explain to parents that whether they are doing children’s homework (from writing out the assignments to outright telling them the answers) or planning their projects – it all constitutes cheating.

It is Exam Day

So, it is exam day and you have been talking to the children about cheating, but suspect that a few might still try to take unethical shortcuts. What do you do?

Experienced teachers from around the world suggest that you should sit in the back of the classroom while students are being tested. When students cannot see the teacher, they are less likely to risk cheating.

Educators also suggest that teachers should avoid setting test papers that have multiple choice questions or short single word answers. And if setting multiple choice questions is inevitable they suggest creating more than one version of the same test paper laid out differently – one on white paper and the other on light blue – that can be handed around the classroom in a way that prevents two people with the same paper from sitting together. While marking the papers, watch out for identical papers with similar mistakes.

Before the test starts have a little talk with the students about the consequences and immorality of cheating. And if during the test you feel that someone is cheating, do not take any action during the test. Any ruckus in the classroom is likely to give other potential cheaters the opportunity to do so. However, before the test starts, inform the students of the consequences they are likely to face if you suspect that someone has cheated.

And finally, some teachers ask all the students to cover up their work during the test. They believe that since peer pressure plays a big role in cheating, once you have directed children to cover up their work, it is less likely that there will be disapproval from other peers. What do you think?

The Importance of Integrity

Unfortunately policing students is almost inevitable during a test in the school environment. Yet one almost instinctively knows that when the prevention of cheating is only about policing the students, all you are likely to get are students who have beaten the system and are one step ahead of their teachers in the cheating game. It is infinitely more important to invest time encouraging integrity in our students. For when we stress on the importance of integrity, we help bring up children who learn far more than what can be taught in a classroom and who grow up to be better and stronger human beings.


January 2013