Internet and new technologies have made it easier for students to cheat, but also to get caught. China even recently started using drones to supervise exams. This edition of Learning World looks into why students cheat and what can be done to curb academic fraud.
South Africa: the pressure of rankings
South Africa’s education system consistently ranks as one of the worst in the world. Most students attend under-resourced schools. Each year, over 700,000 pupils finishing high school take the National Senior Certificate Exams, or matric. And each year, as the exam results are unveiled, cheating scandals break. Pupils are not the only ones to blame, says Zubeida Desai, Dean at the University of the Western Cape. “No school wants to be seen as the bottom of the ladder,” she explains. The pressure of school rankings at these national exams is such that some teachers end up turning a blind eye on cheaters in the classroom, or even provide them the answers.
The official policy states that teachers are prohibited from overseeing tests for the subject they teach. But at Stonefountain, a private school mostly attended by poor students, that’s exactly what happened last year when the principal forced teachers into the wrong classrooms. Forty-six students were found guilty of cheating on the matric exams, mainly by copying each other’s answers. The principal and five teachers lost their jobs. Elsewhere in the country, high school students were banned from taking the matric exams again for up to three years, and supervisors faced criminal charges.
Universities fighting plagiarism with software
Some universities are actively fighting cheating by asking students to hand in their tests electronically and using special software to detect whether they’ve copy-pasted chunks of text without attribution, or even purchased content from a third party.
In Spain, the Open University of Catalonia — one of Europe’s largest online universities — has been perfecting its own anti-plagiarism software for the past five years. It combs through students’ copies, looking for similarities and making it much more difficult for cheaters to go unnoticed. The university says that since the software was deployed, plagiarism has dropped by 80 percent. This software should also soon be able to assess, based on writing patterns, whether a text has been produced by another person than its purported author.
India: parents helping their children cheat
India made headlines this year when the Supreme Court decided to cancel a medical school exam and reschedule it a month later following a massive cheating scandal. Each year, more than 600,000 thousand Indian students compete for just 4,000 spots to study medicine at public universities. The stakes are high because entering a private college instead implies paying hefty tuition fees. This year, candidates cheated by using Bluetooth ear pieces to talk to paid doctors who helped them throughout the exam.
Fraud took a more old-fashioned and comical turn in the eastern state of Bihar, when friends and relatives of 10th grade students scaled the school walls to smuggle answers scribbled on pieces of paper into the classrooms. “You have parents wanting their children to excel, wanting their children to become something in life. So the parents would in fact encourage the students, sometimes even pressurize them into doing well,” explains Dr Anita Spadigam, Dean at Goa Medical College.