Defeating Cheating: Sindh Govt Tried And Failed. What Now?
It is easy to point out the provincial government’s failure in preventing cheating; it is much more difficult for a parent to acknowledge their own failure in being unable to teach their child the value of honesty and hard work, writes Mawish Moulvi.
Students in Sindh are notorious for cheating in examinations and one can’t help but wonder why. Once a year, when they sit down to hurriedly scribble out answers as the clock ticks away, news of exam questions being leaked and answers being copied always make it to the newspaper and television headlines. Every year the issue is touched upon when exam season arrives and then goes back to being ignored.
This year when the Sindh matriculation exams began on 1st April, cheating was reported in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana, Mirpurkhas, Nawabshah, Khairpur as well as other districts of the province; the list is a long one. The Board of Intermediate & Secondary Education Larkana, reported 135 cases of students copying and 93 cases of impersonation – individuals were caught trying to take the exams instead of the actual candidates.
The most obvious explanation (previously quoted by many) lies in the poor state of the education system in Sindh. The teachers are either poorly paid and hence mostly absent, or have poor qualifications themselves which are insufficient for proper teaching. The students never learn and so choose to cheat because failing is not an option; they know their parents saved every penny to pay the school fees hoping that with an education their child would have a better future. But if this is the case, why is cheating still a problem in some of the finest schools across developed countries?
Cheating is a global urge – not one bound by nationalities. According to the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), a non-ministerial government department that regulates examinations in the UK, the number of penalties issued for students cheating in GCSE and A-level exams increased by 25 percent in 2017. Smuggling of unauthorised materials into examinations was the most common form of malpractice reported by Ofqual, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the cheating. In most cases the confiscated items were mobile phones.
Cheating can take two key forms: 1) cheating during the exam itself, i.e. copying answers from other candidates or from materials smuggled into the examination hall 2) cheating prior to the exams by gaining access to the examination questions in advance. This year several question papers including the English exam for ninth class and Physics exam for class ten were leaked via WhatsApp merely hours before the exams were set to begin in Sukkur and Mirpurkhas.
Investigations into the matter over previous years have revealed the involvement of teachers in facilitating the cheating, hence offering a viable explanation as to the widespread occurrence of this malpractice amongst students. However, once again, this phenomenon is not unique to Pakistan or other underdeveloped countries with lower quality of educational standards and infrastructures. As per Ofqual’s report, 897 staff members were caught aiding cheating in 2017, which was an increase from 360 staff members the previous year.
Accordingly, 185 staff members were required to undergo further training and 90 were barred from having any involvement in future exams. Effective and immediate action was taken to curb the malpractice. An example was made of the miscreants; cheating could not and would not be tolerated. Thus it is no surprise, cheating which occurred in the UK only made up 0.015 percent of all exam entrants. In contrast, cheating in Sindh continues to be a common practice despite the provincial government’s attempts to curb it.
This year, upon discovering students in Sukkur openly cheating during their matriculation exams, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah suspended the Controller of Examination of Sukkur Education Board. He also ordered a thorough investigation into the matter. While this dealing with the aftermath may appear a redundant publicity stunt, it is necessary to evaluate and restructure policy measures for the upcoming year. Furthermore, it is pertinent to note that the Sindh government had put restrictions into place before the exam season began to prevent cheating – albeit unsuccessfully.
A month prior to the examinations, the provincial government had announced that the exams would be conducted in grounds instead of classrooms to prevent cheating. The photocopy shops around the examination centres were also banned from operation during the examination period. Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was imposed in areas surrounding examination centres, preventing an assembly of four or more persons in a public space. Station house officers (SHOs) were empowered to take action against violation of the code and to register complaints of unfair means. Yet, cheating teenagers reigned supreme.
Are the students too smart, and hence capable of easily outwitting qualified adults, or are the adults in charge simply incompetent? Preventing cheating is no easy task. Like any other (immoral) activity, where there is money to be made there will be service providers, especially in a country like Pakistan.
In our nation, purchasing quick fixes is a common practice. Paying money gets you forgiveness for murder, it enables you to avoid a traffic violation ticket, money gets you a job others are equally qualified for, it gets you access to prostitutes and drugs; money makes the world go round. So in the midst of all these crimes someone making money by leaking out a piece of paper as the exam questions are being printed seems harmless.
As a society we are constantly encircled by stigmas, some of which have had deadly consequences. There are stigmas on love marriages, second marriages, no marriages, transgender persons, survivors of rape, victims of sexual harassment and what not. Yet little shame is attached to being caught cheating when the sole purpose of exams is to test an individual’s learning. It is easy to point out the provincial government’s failure in preventing cheating; it is much more difficult for a parent to acknowledge their own failure in being unable to teach their child the value of honesty and hard work.
The writer has a Masters in media with a distinction from the London School of Economics. She Tweets @mawish_m