« | Home | »

‘It’s not fair if you don’t let us cheat’

Tags: | |

Schoolchildren everywhere cheat in exams. But British and American universities are said to be especially worried by a rise in fraudulent applications from Chinese students. In China, meanwhile, some schools are going to extreme lengths to prevent cheating on the gao kao, the national college entrance examinations.

A school in Jilin province made headlines when it required pupils to pass through a metal detector to prevent them sneaking electronic devices into the exams; girls were forbidden from wearing bras with metal underwire or clasps. A school in Hubei province brought in external invigilators after 99 identical exam papers were handed in last year. This provoked a riot by students and parents. After the exams the invigilators were trapped in school offices while hundreds of students threw rocks at the windows. ‘We want fairness,’ they shouted. ‘There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat’ (i.e. everyone else does so why can’t we).

In the late 1990s I worked at a small teacher training college in Hunan province; all the students there had done badly on the gao kao. Anyone with a good score was in a better college, or university, certainly in a better town. The facilities were poor; most of the lessons consisted of mind-numbing rote learning. When I set exams, I made sure they would be easy for anyone who had turned up to class. Other teachers told me to watch out for cheating, but I was still amazed by how blatant and widespread it was. I saw answers written on palms, wrists, on small strips of paper in tiny characters; at least very few people in China had mobile phones then.

When I marked the papers I found widespread copying; in one case two boys had lifted entire paragraphs from each other. The college authorities agreed that this was definitely against the rules, and truly awful, then made me pass them anyway.

Ultimately the problem, both then and now, was an education system that made pupils’ futures contingent on their ability to regurgitate information. In that kind of system, with so much pressure and competition, perhaps cheating is the only sane response. Michael Gove wants more learning by rote, tougher exams and more competition between pupils in British schools. Which probably means more cheating, too.

Comments on “‘It’s not fair if you don’t let us cheat’”

  1. alynch says:

    I have just finished teaching a summer school course at a university in Xi’an. I was required to set an examination. I was politely informed that the key issue was attendance. I was also told that marks in the high 90’s were pretty much expected, and that anything lower would be troublesome – exceept if an otherwise attending student failed to show for the exam. Then something in the 80’s would be fine.

  2. Derek Newton says:

    In Chinese education scores are everything. Although students take the gao kao around the age of 18, they start training for it as soon as they enter primary school. The examination system permeates every aspect of the curriculum. Exams such as the gao kao operate on an industrial scale, testing what can be tested. But what can be tested is not the same as what could be learned. To the despair of Chinese educationalists, the curriculum remains stubbornly knowledge-based and fails to promote imagination, creativity or the application of learning. Of course it’s possible to cheat in the Chinese exam system because everyone is expected to provide the same, ‘correct’ answer. This is the ‘world-class’ examination system Mr Gove apparently seeks to emulate. But then ‘ignorance is bliss’ and Mr Gove certainly has the arrogance of ignorance.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • name on Who is the enemy?: Simply stating it is correct doesn't make it so, I just wish you would apply the same epistemic vigilance to "Muslim crimes" as you do to their Hebrew...
    • Glen Newey on Unwinnable War: The legal issue admits of far less clarity than the simple terms in which you – I imagine quite sincerely – frame them. For the benefit of readers...
    • Geoff Roberts on The New Normal: The causes go back a long way into the colonial past, but the more immediate causes stem from the activities of the US forces in the name of freedom a...
    • sol_adelman on The New Normal: There's also the fact that the French state denied the mass drownings of '61 even happened for forty-odd years. No episode in post-war W European hist...
    • funky gibbon on At Wembley: If England get France in the quarter finals of Euro 16 I expect that a good deal of the fraternity will go out the window

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Edward Said: The Iraq War
    17 April 2003

    ‘This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology.’

    David Runciman:
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    8 May 2003

    ‘One of the things that unites all critics of Blair’s war in Iraq, whether from the Left or the Right, is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what matters is the consequences of his actions.’

    Simon Wren-Lewis: The Austerity Con
    19 February 2015

    ‘How did a policy that makes so little sense to economists come to be seen by so many people as inevitable?’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

Advertisement Advertisement