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No cheating, please!

Exam cheating Aug 2008: It is naturally contagious, exceptionally tempting, highly advantageous (apparently), though a potentially risky business, but produces swift results without strenuous efforts in the right direction. Sure, we are talking of unfair and illegal ways to pass examinations commonly known as "cheating".
In spite of heavy, continuous and extensive rhetoric by the authorities concerned over curbing deceitful means utilised during exams, it is no secret that the immoral practice of employing wrong and nefarious methods in various forms for success in academic tests is rampant at various levels in our education system.

Other than students, the leading beneficiary of exam-linked trickery, several other social elements are also believed to be involved in this menace, which, in normal circumstances, cannot spread without being patronised at different levels.

And while almost our entire education system is abundant with exams-clearance related corruption, one believes the evil has its very roots at the secondary school level, i.e., from grade six to 10 (or O' Levels), where willingly or reluctantly, many students start thinking about moving at speed. These students, in the age bracket of 11-15 years have been kept under the spotlight in this piece.

If these learners gaining education - that encompasses academic and character development - adopt devious means during the exams for their progress then a sane individual does not need a super computer to figure out what sort of setup the society shapes with minds having gained maturity in fraudulent ways of life at the helm of national affairs in various private and public sector organisations.

The educated people are naturally expected to play a leading role in boosting the cultural norms of a country. And if these individuals, who carry the vital responsibility of spreading integrity across the length and breadth of a society, complete the ladder of awareness, i.e., education in a crooked fashion then an unforeseen turmoil encircles almost every department of life, very much observable in our country these days.

Several methods of unfair means are adopted and promoted at many of our private and public sector schools, which, if truth be told, are pushing the country towards an unimaginable disorder. After entering the secondary level, many innocent learners, due to various reasons, begin dreaming of easier ways or shortcuts to pass their exams. By the time they make grade eight or are at the threshold of grade nine, many of them, after joining the senior learners' emblem at a school, start skewing in their exams.

Being very realistic it should be conceded that many of our school students, who clear their exams with illicit ways, dig their own grave, a fact they realise the moment they embark on college/high school life.

But perhaps by this time their minds become so calculated that it is almost impossible for them to get back to the right path. The result: quietly growing corrupt mentalities, sort of time bombs. Just imagine how many time bombs like these are being set everyday across Pakistan.

There is a general impression among the public that wrongdoings occur only at local government and private schools and board exams. However, there have been some evidences, which signal that discrepancies exist at the Cambridge examinations as well.

Besides the perpetrators (the students in this case), the involvement of other stakeholders such as school authorities, influential officials, law-enforcement organisations, teachers and invigilators in this atrocious act is a common fact.

A few years back, a prominent educational organisation in the country where students had been achieving an excessive number of high grades, according to a reliable piece of information, was found having grave anomalies during examinations.

Buying question papers (before the prescribed exam date); substituting the actual candidate; arranging help at the examination hall from oneself, fellow students or invigilator; taking the test in an isolated environment far from the actual point and two schools reaching an understanding to assist each other's students during board exams are some of the very few and general methods used for cheating during exams. There may be many other techniques too, known better to the culprits. The reasons? There are many, depending upon the student's mental approach, which he holds as a permanent feature.

Avoiding hard work, fear of failure, casual up bringing by parents/guardians, a fragile understanding between the teacher and the student, prevailing social environment that usually shows a sharp inclination towards immorality, non-availability of competent teachers (only in some cases, though it is no genuine excuse) and poor management of affairs by schools and education boards - there can be so many reasons.

In some cases, a student does not get the attention of his teacher and parents throughout the academic session, which leaves him introverted, and with no visible guidance coming his way, he takes up wrong ways.

A grade nine student, whose comment on cheating was sought, highlighted this tendency from a slightly different angle. He expressed that social distances keep a learner away from his parents, other family members and teachers, adding that the fright of being admonished and ridiculed on a possible failure compels him to go towards the wrong moral path. No one, he adds, thinks to go in-depth and know his capacity to learn and absorb things taught at school.

If pondered minutely, the above grievance does carry some weight. On several occasions, parents and teachers, in the rush that life brings with itself, do not try to develop a strong bond with the young, a step which can do wonders for a growing mind. A young pupil, who clearly requires proper supervision and confidence to carry him or her through the exams, does not get any. This is not to say that the student is entirely exempt from being held responsible for using wrong means to succeed in the exams.

Interestingly, almost 95 per cent teachers, when asked their opinion about "Why students cheat in exams?", selected the option of "Just to pass the exams and move ahead" from among a total of five given choices including: "To get admission in good colleges", "To surpass fellow students", "To impress teachers and parents" and "Wealth factor (meaning good marks bringing good results, good colleges and eventually good income through a lucrative job)".

But on the other hand, an experienced coordinator candidly chose "wealth factor", while emphasising that education seeking in our society has become more or less wealth-oriented.

Two questions arise if one were to believe her. Firstly, "Are the students so distant mentally from their parents and teachers that they have made wealth their primary aim in the present era of selfishness and avarice?" Second, if the answer of the first question is "yes" (though I wish it isn't) then where are we, or rather our youth, heading to?

On inquiring who is truly responsible for cheating in the exams, around 75 per cent (grade six to 10) teachers, blamed the government institution-run education system, ignoring the choices of the students themselves, teachers, parents and corrupt social environment, clearly signifying that the state's education machinery does not enjoy the trust of the teachers.

From the secondary school students, who were approached to explain "why do students cheat", 36 per cent thought it was done "just to pass the exams and move ahead" while approximately 28 per cent reckoned it was "to impress the teachers and parents".

On who was responsible for this dishonesty, 35 per cent pointed towards the students themselves while almost the same percentage said that the blame should go to the social environment.

So, one can cautiously say that at least our students have the guts to accept the simple, open drawbacks which they can themselves remove too, gradually.

A young, upbeat teacher who believes in mustering support for a good cause from the grass-roots level, emphatically said that the parents and teachers were chiefly to be blamed for a learner inclining towards unfair means in exams. Instead of criticising the government's role, he insisted, guardians and teachers, if they try and come close to the students, could mould them into honest souls, provided they (the parents and teachers) play their respective roles honestly and judiciously.

Nevertheless, the part to be played by the government in curbing malpractice during assessments, particularly core, cannot be denied.

And it was very earnestly and clearly underlined by Mr Azmat Ali Baig, a veteran teacher, who slammed the education system (particularly referring to local boards) and the authorities concerned for the rampaging wave of forbidden methods used during exams.

Mr Baig, who picked students' evasion from hard work as the main reason for cheating, stressed the need for seriousness by the government authorities concerned to eradicate this form of educational corruption.

In sharp contrast, a mother of two pointed out towards the parents as the chief element in the making or breaking of their children, exams or no exams.

The mother, whose daughter attained an appreciable 88 per cent at this year's BSEK exams, also noticed that the reasons and frequency of cheating in our society differ in the case of boys and girls. The company, she thought that boys keep outside their homes, can take them towards all kind of wrongdoings.

Recommended solutions? There can never be overnight changes in a big, heterogeneous society, of course.

But yes, small yet highly significant steps like adults working on their social behaviour, school authorities managing exams fairly, government education institutions and law-enforcement bodies coming out of that hidden clout obstructing the way to a permanently just education system, teachers setting examples of honesty for their pupils, plus parents changing their preferences - from demanding high grades from their children - to seeking intellect and morality for them, can bring an unprecedented revolution in the education system of Pakistan. In order to do that, everybody will have to contribute one way or the other.

We should never forget that we owe a lot to this country. So let us start our mission from education. Let us help and guide our youngsters learn with honesty and dignity.

By S.M. Ibrahim Farooqi (Dawn)

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