The Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) has released timetables for national exams for Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) Examinations and Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) examinations. You will recall that I wrote an article “Cheating is to blame for parent’s frustration with PLE grades” in the Daily Monitor of January 28 after PLE results were released. This article was shared extensively on social media.
Thereafter, I received many phone calls and email correspondences from Uneb scouts, examination invigilators and other officials in the education system testifying that indeed cheating had reached alarming levels.
I was shocked to learn that parents too are actively involved in examinations cheating. They give money to their children to buy leaked papers and smart phones so as to easily access the leakage via social media. Inspectors of schools collude with head teachers to flout exams invigilation rules. Teachers, including invigilators, who get examination papers hours before the paper is done, drill the pupils/students while giving them tips on how to avoid detection during marking. The list is long.
Now as the country is entering the examination season, we need to start a conversation on how we can deal with academic dishonesty, especially cheating, to avoid past mistakes in our written examinations, the main assessment procedure in primary, high school and university level education in Uganda.
The inspiration for this article is the increasing number of pupils/students, teachers and parents that consider cheating exams as normal and independent of corruption. It is common nowadays to hear head teachers, school directors and even parents saying if all other schools and students are cheating, there is no reason they should not cheat as well.
Schools convince themselves that the reason they cheat is because they have to if they are to keep pace with others who are cheating. In Uganda, good examination grades mean business as parents will be enticed to bring pupils/students to the school that consistently posts excellent academic grades hence more money.
Cheating exams has become a deadly form of corruption because it is said some schools have invested heavily in cheating to appear more superior to others. When corruption combines with increasing competition in educational institutions, academic integrity is sacrificed.
Pupils in primary schools witness their teachers and parents encouraging them to cheat. Then can a country expect to create a generation of honest, hardworking Ugandans when the young see adults treat cheating and other corrupt practices as normal? If things do not change, the culture and acceptance of cheating and corruption in the minds of future generations, will be cemented and this will be detrimental.
The culture of cheating will erode the importance of learning in the minds of students and parents. Why should students and teachers pay attention in class when they are assured of exam leakage? This attitude has followed students into higher education, especially in universities where we witness cheating at a grand scale.
I have worked at a university for more than 16 years and I have realised that some students with very good grades at lower levels of education probably cheated. If not, why would they want to engage in exam cheating? At university, students try hard to find out the questions before the exam from lecturers or the examinations office.
Those who fail try to copy from other students during exams. Others copy from material brought into the exam room. Other students write texts on their hands, arms, thighs, etc, and/or use mobile phones to obtain answers from the Internet or even by sending someone else to sit the exam for them.
Nowadays some employers tell you that many transcripts presented misrepresent the students’ competencies and strengths. Cheating at all levels has meant that students entering the work force are essentially incompetent as they had not truly learnt the full body of knowledge expected of them. That is why many employers spend millions of money on training job entrants.
This is money which could have been saved had honesty been the norm in schools and higher institutions of learning.
In addition, those who cheat their way through school bring with them a culture of cheating everywhere. They view corruption as a legitimate tool to use in professional life. For example, those who cheated most likely are the same people who will cheat their way into becoming successful politicians or top level positions in the country. It should not surprise us that corruption has been institutionalised.
The ‘mafia’ threat in government that manipulates systems for selfish interests is real and was created by the corrupt education system. Every day, newspapers and other media outlets report about fake doctors, fake teachers, etc.
Academic dishonesty is a very dangerous type of corruption because it happens when people are at such a young age. If a behaviour is perceived as normal at this stage, it is most likely that it will be repeated for the rest of the life of the individual. By adopting a corrupt behaviour at such an early stage, young people are more likely to be corrupt as adults as well. Cheating students might grow to become cheating employees and may even ‘encourage’ corruption at the organisational level.
Why has cheating continued to happen? Technology levels has greatly advanced over the last few years, but examination conditions have not been adapted in order to be able to detect cheating through technology. Second, even when cheating during the written examination is detected, it is ignored by the invigilators.
Third, the pressure to pass exam is immense not just for the pupils/students, but for teachers and school directors who will lose face in the community and incite the wrath of parents if their students fail not to get very good grades. Fourth and the most important is that cheating has become a norm because of its perceived frequency over the years.
People engage in exam cheating and other malpractices because they believe that it is what other people in their community, schools, or network do - “I cheat because everybody does”. Cheating appears also to be gaining a sense of acceptability.
Curbing cheating will require a thorough understanding of the social forces that perpetuate the evil practice.
Dr Rwebiita is Associate Professor, Department of Governance, Kabale University.