Academic Dishonesty- Why Do We All Cheat?

A recent article in the Indian Express reminded me of a common practice from my school & college days – cheating during examinations.

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Cliff Cooper, via Flickr

You might be thinking of the much-publicized image of parents & other helpers climbing to 3rd and 4th storeys of an examination building to help students cheat during matriculation exams in a district in Bihar; an image that renewed India’s subscription to the ignominy of being known for blatant cheating. But the news article I am referring to is not about Bihar; it’s about some school students in Delhi.

Academic dishonesty was taken to another level with a top south Delhi school’s Maths examination cheating scandal that almost succeeded. Students and implicitly parents paid teachers lakhs to get the Maths question paper some months ago. They were caught only when an extraordinary number of students began scoring well. Such is the influence of the school owners that the scandal did not see the light of popular media right away. Obviously, they had power the scheming parents in Bihar could not afford.

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“Cheating”

Currently, the students have been denied character certificates, hampering their admissions to colleges abroad. Parents have been apologizing on their behalf begging that the students’ careers should not be tarnished by one instance of moral failure. And on it goes.

Right through National Entrance Exams
Earlier in 2015, the Supreme Court of India cancelled the All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT) after allegations of cheating and irregularities. Not just that, turns out, in that time period nearly 12 major question papers were leaked.

From Bribery to Technology
Cheating and bribery seem to have an old nexus and is one of the main five ways we cheat, according to this BBC article. Some other ways many Indians achieve their “lakshya” are- professional “solvers” who take the same entrance exam and switch papers with their “client” students, mass-copying (nothing like the strength in numbers, I have felt it myself- if you refuse to cheat, you are made to feel that you’re not helping others), stealing question papers and sharing via social networks.

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Then there are gadgets like Bluetooth devices, button-hole cameras, micro earphones & pens that can scan question papers. The stuff of James Bond, right?  Wait till you hear this.

Utility Cheating Kit?

The Rajasthan police recently busted a company in Delhi that sold cheating kits worth Rs. 8000/- per piece. The kit itself would’ve put Batman’s utility belt to shame- undergarments attached with antennae, Bluetooth devices, spy cams, complete with modified mobile phones and other goodies.

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“Bhai, take my belt and give me that kit.”

Whoever said technology & education would make the world better, should meet these ingenious people now in police custody.

Politics & Cheating
The mixture of power, politics & desire to excel -no matter what- showed itself in another scandal that rocked the nation last year. This multi-crore cash-for-jobs scam involved enormous irregularities and corruption in the Madhya Pradesh Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) also known as Vyapam. At first glance, the number of “mysterious” deaths – 48 people- indicated a big conspiracy determined to stay in the dark – seems like a story taken right out of the movies. But if I was a student who could have got a job by paying my through, it could have seemed to me as just another way to reach my goal – “‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is all perspective, right?”.

The scale of cheating or the ruckus it causes in the society does not matter, because what lies beneath goes unchallenged – “my goal”, “my future” & “my security”.

Oh, and We Cheat into Offices Too
Now that we have gone past the “cheating-is-not-really-harmful” stage, let’s move from college to corporate. While many Indian students do work hard and there are honest people doing a great job in enterprises, project managers & team leads know insider stories that are plain uncomfortable – many job aspirants have faked their educational qualifications to get well-paying jobs.

One friend, a manager with an IT major, told me how their team would hire non-qualified employees on lower pay packages for a certain post, give them a crash-course in subject matters for some weeks and present them to senior project executives or clients as qualified resource people.

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This should be no surprise for you & me, given our inclination to achieve our goals even by cheating. It’s but a natural progression of what has been happening on a smaller scale.

Not to Worry- Cheating is Not Just Indian in Origin!
Interestingly, even developed countries don’t have it any better. The reputation of exemplary German automotive engineering was dragged in the mud by the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which now threatens to hit BMW and Mercedes. Meanwhile, other infamous instances of cheating have occurred in countries like the US, on the levels of Ashley Madison, the famous site that was hacked to leak data on many extra-marital affairs. Though I respect the Indian Army for many things, recurrent scams like the 2012 NDA recruitment scam have allowed corruption to poke holes in our nation’s confidence in the integrity of the armed forces. Ex-Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, tragically let down a fanbase with his doping scandal, meanwhile rampant match-fixing in international sports has dented the reputation of many a player and team.

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Meanwhile, trading nations show one another they have talent that should be hired. One nation invites the other to see the investments they’re capable of making. There’s a show of “we are splendid” and “we are worth it”. Sadly, both emperors have no clothes on and yet the show must go on.

I am ashamed to admit our nation has reached obnoxious levels of academic dishonesty. This harms our growth because the collective reputation of our talent is being ruined by a swathe of unscrupulous men and women. But as responsible Indians, we need to deal with this at the root! It seems to be more than just the act of “harmless copying”.

Will Fear of Reputation Cure the Cheating Attitude?
The writer of the Indian Express article on the south Delhi school uses warnings about the cost of losing one’s future reputation to deter people from cheating. Ms. Lehar Kala opines that a lifetime of being identified as a corrupt person just to pass an exam is not worth it.

I agree with her to some extent. But her solution is so weak it won’t hold any water. Think about it – this warning has been given to entire generations and we still have not learnt. Doesn’t it ring true? People have been given consequences, yet they take the plunge.

Think about it – such warnings have been given to entire generations and we still have not learnt. Doesn’t it ring true? People have been given consequences, yet they take the plunge.

Heck, even toddlers who have not learnt social behaviour, disobey parents with impunity! We all have committed wrongs in our worst moments that we knew could cause grave consequences. And yet.

The blatantness of wrong-doing in a Delhi school seems to shock us, and it should. But is such cheating happening due to lack of education?

Maybe a lack of moral teachings? An overdose of Western influence (kuch bhi!)?

Why Do Humans Cheat?

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Arun Kumar, a professor at JNU’s Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, New Delhi, said in an interview to the Hindustan Times that we are wired to cheat because we are don’t see the need to excel. Both parents and students want degrees at any cost, not education.”

Interesting, but is that the root cause? Another counselor explains –

Cheating is a persistent phenomenon in social contexts, where the individual is called upon to prove his/her worthiness and achievement. And the means do not always matter.

Now we’re getting somewhere! Cheating is actually a means to find our worth in our achievements. It’s a manifestation of the cheater trying to find their identity in say, exam results or in a job profile that will – in their estimation – bring a lasting sense of worth & achievement before loved ones (feeding their need for affirmation) & the watching world (feeding their sense of pride).

There’s also a vigorous attempt to cheat the realities of life – hard work usually produces results; but sometimes it just doesn’t. We seem to not believe the truth in the Bible that God in response to our darkened hearts, had cursed our time of work here on earth (Gen. 3:17). “No pain, no gain” shouts the wisdom of God, but we just want our shortcuts to success.

Psychologist Polly Sengupta says – Students, like the rest of us, have the tendency to rationalise cheating, in their effort to shake off the guilt.

The Final Exams That Will Matter
But guilt does not go unnoticed. The Bible teaches we are not merely accountable to an invigilator, a project manager or a traffic cop when we cheat. We instead, are challenging the plans & goodness of a loving God who showers rain on both the good & the evil. So in that sense, our final exams will not be about disconnected theories we need to mug up, but will be, one day, before an impartial God who knows how to ask the right questions. That’s what Jesus said –

But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20)

What can man do when he stands before God, who hates any kind of sin and will punish it mightily? Who can escape the true, powerful Judge?

Jesus was Not a Cheater but…
For those who have cheated and think it a light sin, know that God the Son, Jesus, offered His perfect life as a substitute for our dreadful punishment in eternal separation from God’s goodness in hell. His clean slate of purity now belongs to all those who see their desperate need of Him and want true faith in Him. Jesus was never a cheater but… He was treated like a filthy cheater by God the Father for our sake. The cross is the place where God accomplished our rescue from the terrible consequences of our deep-rooted selfishness.

It’s only in the light of this truth that we as fellow countrymen will see that our identities need not be tied up to temporal things like jobs and exams, but must be tied up in God as His forgiven children – all due to Jesus’ sacrifice! Because of Jesus Christ, His people now have God the Father’s beautiful affirmation (Rom. 5:1,2) and a security that comes from resting in the arms of the mighty Creator of the universe (Ps. 116:7)- whether we score well or not.

And it’s not like Jesus-followers will never cheat. The temptation will remain. But because of the change in nature that only Jesus can give us as an undeserving gift of grace, we will not love the business of dishonest gain and snatching jobs from rightful winners. When we sin, we will eventually admit we were wrong, and with hope turn to the One who loved us much!

Are you tempted to cheat in your daily life? How do you view cheating now?

What are you suggestions to counter the problem of cheating at various levels in our country?

Do you see honesty before God & men as an option? Why or why not?

Please share your comments below!

Image Credits

Cheating” by Hariadhi, myself – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons

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