On Cheating and Morals

17 Apr

Thursday, 20 March 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Cheating and bribery are becoming habits at the school level itself. Students copy in examinations and pay for leaked papers. The trend carries over into politics too

Is India really supportive of dishonesty? Should we give up the pretence of being an honest country where truth and equality are valued? Because, often, India gives enough data to prove that we do not believe in truth enough to be able to demonstrate our leaning towards it. Be it the elections or the exams, whenever we are put to the test, many of us crack under the pressure and use questionable means.

Consider this chilling piece of news: A boy in Uttar Pradesh committed suicide because he could not pay a bribe to be allowed to cheat in the examination — his dream of becoming a teacher was, therefore, lost. There is so much that went wrong here: Bribe, cheating, limitations on opportunities to a career, and the bullying of the poor; the mother had to mortgage her ring to arrange for the bribe.

This is not a unique example. Cheating has been rife and is almost institutionalised in many parts of the country. It is a rare examination room where cheating does not occur in some form or the other. While as an educationist I constantly argue for smarter examination designs to eliminate this evil, one has to admit that there is an element of training for a corrupt future going on here.

Examinations that merely test for rote-learning are bound to be gamed — and we see that they are by millions of people. If the objective is to win, and the underlying principle is the survival of the fittest, then of course the laws of the jungle will begin to apply. If the examinations were not such a high-stakes hurdle, then the situation might be different. As things stand, the marks will determine whether you have access to a decent education or whether you have to chart your own path through unguided waters. The price of purchasing that certainty is often paid by crossing the ethical divide.

Things do not get better as one climbs through the education ranks — as a student one often uses pirated or photo-copied textbooks (and the cases are still in court), essays and thesis assignments are often either plagiarised or outsourced for a fee, and, one hears that laboratory test results are ‘arrived’ at in various ways. Another example: Professor Muralidharan, who has worked for years on education in India and published serious academic papers, tweeted out a case of his entire paper being copied and cited by an academic in southern India, as shown on his webpage. Brazen plagiarism must have its roots in a history of not being caught out and shamed.

Academics now are charged with producing a given number of research papers per year to get their increments and promotions. With poor research training and little time and support, many plagiarise. Others often sit on the ethical fence and split their work into the required number of papers — just to meet the rules. Honesty is clearly not a way of life even as we learn.

This shows in choices made at election time too. As a nation, we do not vote for honesty. The number of criminals in Parliament has been widely reported. The number of criminals who are getting to stand on behalf of significant political parties is known too. And yet such people will continue to get elected. A recent paper by Milan Vaishnav (for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) estimates that the chances of winning elections for a candidate with no criminal charges against him or her is a mere seven per cent (rising to 25 per cent if there is at least one serious case against the individual). From the voters’ point of view, in a survey, a whopping 48 per cent indicated that they would be okay voting for such a candidate.





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