Even before technology swamped our world, cheating in education was an active choice – to copy from the person next to you, to slip in a cheat-sheet in one’s pocket or to take a quick nip to the bathroom during an exam to check a textbook.
But malpractice has unfortunately become a lot easier, with the internet at one’s fingertips to passively copy and paste, or even access online answers without any mental effort. There are many examples around of what is essentially unprincipled behaviour to advance one’s own good, including political corruption, sports doping and fake news. The understanding of how to make responsible choices is down to a combination of culture, parental input and school values.
Students commit malpractice for all sorts of different reasons; cheating in an exam due to fear of failing, easy duplication of work from the internet or even submitting a friend’s work as one’s own. In a COVID world where schools have had to move online, this is even more challenging; as students sit at home, with less supervision there is even more opportunity to use the mobile phone next to the computer as they busily work on a test.
Examination boards take academic malpractice very seriously indeed. Schools are required to report anything from coursework plagiarism to exam cheating. On the few occasions I have sat in a disciplinary hearing to review malpractice in student work, I always ask myself the question: why did this happen?
I do not expect this of a Verdala student, so what can we do to ensure academic integrity is engrained in our school culture? Directly connected to our value statements, students should know right from wrong, and they should not feel so unsafe that they need to take a shortcut.
The key to students not cheating is all in the power of ownership of their learning, so they truly believe it is not worth cheating in any shape or form
Encouraging pride in one’s work and the achievement that accompanies it, needs to be established from the start, in primary school. One of the mistakes some helicopter parents make is ‘helping’ their children so much that the project then becomes a family effort rather than the child’s. This makes it difficult to mark the child realistically or give them the feedback they deserve to help them progress.
Children need help and appreciate a parent’s interest but it should be clear when the parent has assisted the effort. As they grow older, children may rely too much on input and feel they really can’t work independently, and self-esteem issues set in, a vicious cycle of achievement versus pressure.
Establishing a school culture that values personal growth and pride in the little steps along the way can foster academic honesty. This should be accompanied by regular guidance about malpractice and a toolkit of how to acknowledge other people’s effort and work.
Teachers need to spot any discrepancies early on in the student’s work, so they can be guided on how to use the internet wisely, showing students how to use reliable sources and only accept work that uses correct citation. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has added another level to this, the key message being “we must always have permission”.
Thanks to technology, we now have more ways to double-check plagiarism; the software programme ‘Turnitin’ can swiftly check whether an essay is written in the students’ own words. Platforms such as ‘Assessprep’ allow us to run assessments online that freeze the test on the computer so that students can’t access other areas.
However, there is still need for trust as education shifts to more self-directed learning, and particularly if students are on distance learning. If we raise our expectations and are consistent in the consequences, we can foster this approach.
At Verdala International School, we also ask our students to sign a ‘Declaration of Understanding’ that clearly outlines our expectations of them in their homework, tests or exams. It sends a strong message that academic integrity is important to us.
Nevertheless, the key to students not cheating is all in the power of ownership of their learning, so they truly believe it is not worth cheating in any shape or form. The school values should underpin this, as we celebrate students wherever they are on that learning journey. Far better to fail honestly and help students to reflect and grow, than to fail painfully and then give up.
Totty Aris, Head, Verdala International School
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us