Is Your Child Cheating In School?

Correct me if I am wrong but I believe that cheating at school exams is a malady without a cure.

It may be contained, yes, or even minimalised, but it cannot be cured. Not completely.

(Oh, it is rampant elsewhere too, college, even in real life: there are always people using unfair or unethical means to get ahead. Right?)

Before you hang me, hear me out.

Recently, my older daughter sat for her Class XI final exams. Thankfully it passed. Then came the results. School was open and the papers were being distributed in class. Some girl took the answer sheet, got her friend to do a sum on it, went to the teacher, told the teacher that the teacher had missed checking that sum, got all of 3 marks for the sum, and had it added to her total. My daughter came home, shocked, distraught and upset. “A lot of girls cheat during exams,” she raged, “we all know, but this. This. This is some absurd level of dishonesty.” I had to agree. I had never even imagined such a scenario. Simple, but so utterly dishonest. Apparently, a lot of girls were as shocked as my daughter. Some decided to complain to the teachers. Some complained, some more came up, the issue blew out of control. Now everyone knows there can be some occasional peeping into your friend’s paper. But by and large we like to believe that the children are honest. But in this scenario, with so many complaints, the teachers, rightfully, decided to take over. A special assembly was held where the matter was discussed with the students and all the children agreed that they were all aware that there was cheating going on during exams. On Friday my daughter came home wondering whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the teachers had come to a decision that they would not cancel the exams as initially planned and have a re-examination but instead would hold a supplementary test on Wednesday (tomorrow) where the child would be tested on the entire syllabus for 25 marks. The exam would be on the conceptual application and understanding of the child on the subject. “Great, get cracking.” I told my daughter. I figured that it has barely been a fortnight since the exams got over and she should be familiar with the syllabus anyway. Plus, another test never hurt anyone: maybe it would be a welcome break from the endless Netflix playing at home, less distraction for the younger one who is sitting for her ICSE.

What shocked me, however was the reaction of my daughter’s classmates’ parents. Suddenly, upset mothers and distraught fathers began to mushroom into groups all over whatsapp. I found myself part of one called “Injustice of XYZ”. I went out for dinner of Friday and was constantly barraged by mothers complaining about how the school was unfair and wrong and had failed in invigilation and was punishing the little darlings without any reason. Some even got into a catfight about whose daughter was cheating and whose was not. I muted the group and put away my phone.

The next afternoon, after wading through about 300 messages, I understood that the parents were sending an email on behalf of all parents saying that the proposed exam was unfair and should be withdrawn. I broke my silence on the group and stated that I did not want to be part of any representation and the school was doing what it thought necessary and I saw no reason whatsoever to write them or approach them and no one had to do anything on my behalf. I also stated that it did not matter who had cheated or hadn’t as there was something called “collective responsibility.” Some mothers agreed with me, some even called and spoke to me but a lot of them were ready to draw blood for daring to suggest that the school was doing the right thing and we should just let them be! “Why don’t you suggest a candle-light vigil,” my husband asked smilingly. And I almost did, but was scared that someone might actually take me seriously. On Sunday I exited the group. I had had enough of the cribbing and complaining and holier-than-thou attitude of the parents.

You know what I think? I think for as long as there are children, there will be schools. And as long as there are schools there will be exams. And as long as there are exams, there will be grades and/or marks. And as long as there are marks, there will be cheating.

Why, what happens?

In an ideal world, every child will go to school, get the education they are there for, return home, study, sit for exams and obtain grades/marks based on their aptitude, knowledge and grasp of the subject.

But we do not live in an ideal world. The children go to school, make friends, are distracted in class, some are busy fooling around, some are busy talking, some are just sleepy… they are only doing what children do. Sometimes a good teacher will be heard, if you are lucky something the teacher says will be retained somewhere in memory and often, teachers will be feared or not understood. Peer pressure or shyness will also prevent the child from asking the teacher if he/she does not understand. Projects, games, extra-curricular activities, mischief, chatting with friends… everything on earth except academics will occupy the child’s mind and the child will go home. Sometimes there is homework, the child will do it. Often, the child will hide the homework and copy it off his/her friends in school the next day. Some children will be diligent and shall sit at their desks each evening and study. Some have tutors who will come to teach, some rely on their parents. Still others will sit only if there is a test or homework and not otherwise. Some will read story books and pretend to study, others will sit because their mother told them to but actually be on snapchat or instagram. The year passes this way, more or less, sometimes the pressure to study is more, sometimes less. Bit by bit they understand competition, they also get used to sitting for exams. Some children cope. They are on top of their work and have it under control. Some try hard. They may not be too clever but they give it their best shot. Some don’t study or rather, do not study enough. They think it is okay and they will manage. Come on, they all try. Even the ones who do not study and only pretend to, when they go for an exam they do the best they can. And when they cannot, (even the smartest kids can forget something) they look around. It is neither deliberate nor planned. But yes, they look around and see some friend has the answer. Bingo.

In fact, by the time your child is in Class XI he/she has gone through the rigours of one board examination and pretty much knows what is expected of him/her. Think of it as a musical score. In the background, the teachers are teaching, the parents are telling them to study and the usual chorus about discipline and honesty and success are always humming . Along with it is the beat of the drums of their own world; of friends and TV and the internet and future plans and college applications and cute boys and what-not. And then they sit for an exam and some of them cheat. Why? Don’t they know better by now? Of course they do!

You know, I sincerely believe that children cheat only when their parents and/or school and/or education system values their marks or grades more than their knowledge. They cheat because they want to get that grade that will make you happy. They cheat because they want to get that 90% that looks good on their college application. They cheat because it matters to YOU whether they pass or fail in an internal exam. They cheat because you will yell at them at behave as if all hell has broken loose because he/she got a C instead of an A.

From their point of view they are constantly on trial here: the world is watching them.

Unless you have magical powers, for the time-being you cannot change the system. Unfortunately, no matter how much I crib or complain that the Indian education system is bad and does not teach the child to think for itself but teaches them to learn by rote and is totally grade oriented, I cannot do a damn thing about it. As for the school, I’m sure you planned to the best of your ability when you admitted your child and you must trust the school and respect the decisions it takes, no matter how harsh it may seem. Do not forget the school too has its own limitations. Pro-active and litigating parents can have an adverse effect on schooling and discipline, don’t tie their hands further. They too have to cater to the system that evaluates your children on grades.

That leaves you. Yes, you. YOU can make the difference. I’ll say it again. Do not have unhealthy expectations of your children. Know his/her limitations. TALK to your child. He/she may be afraid, angry, unable to cope, unsettled, will you know until you talk to him/her? Stop pushing your child to live your dreams. If you were lousy at science there is a chance your son may not like it. Just because he got a 90 in biology in Class VII does not mean he is a doctor in waiting! Let her dream of that fashion designing college, let him go on that white-water rafting course. Ease up on your expectations, trust me, you will have happier children.

And happy, well-settled children should not feel the need to cheat to get ahead. Either now, or as adults.

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