Cheating in exams is in the human DNA. Two thousand years ago, in China, candidates appearing for the civil service examinations were trying to cheat, even though the punishment, if caught, was death!
First and foremost, let’s be clear about one thing: the thing that “shocked” the world about the “scene” (the infamous Bihar cheating scandal) where scores of people scaled the heights of schools – Spiderman style – was not the actual “cheating” per se, but the length (or rather the height) to which our fellow human beings were willing to go in order to help their wards secure better marks. [By the way, I do not believe media reports that “neighbours” were out there, helping. From years of observation, I have concluded that when it comes to children, people only ‘help’ their own. After all, if my neighbour’s child got more marks than my very own flesh-and-blood– wouldn’t the heavens fall? By the way, you can superimpose ‘neighbours’ with ‘relatives, for, the working principle remains the same.]
In reality, I do believe people were more afraid of ‘a fallen man’ rather than ‘the fallen man’! [Isn’t the subtle insinuation of a simple article brilliant?]
After all, cheating (in exams and in real life) is omnipresent. [Hence everyone – especially those sniggering at the ‘cheating’ Biharis – need to do some honest soul-searching. Place a hand over your heart and silently ask yourself – ‘Have I never cheated in a test/ exam/ game?’]
I don’t know about you but I am willing to look the monster in the eye and confess: I am a cheater and I have cheated!
Of course, that’s not really important. A more important question is: ‘why did I cheat?’ And ever since the scandal hit our screens, I have been doing a lot of soul-searching. And it finally resulted in the present article.
I am not among the people who remember their childhood very clearly. However, a few – and far between – scenes do remain strongly etched in the hippocampus (the “sea-horse” look-alike memory machine).
The first memory I have of school was in Lower KG. I was wearing a dark green woollen poncho – looking cute, I’m sure – when my teacher called out my name. The next scene in the montage of my life goes something like this:
I was standing in front of an intimidating Big Black Blackboard. The teacher handed me a small chalk and asked me to write down the English alphabets. Sadly, I couldn’t go beyond A…B…C…and as I stood immobilized, clutching the chalk for dear life – she hit me on my teeny tiny tooshie (that’s buttocks, speaking anatomically). I remember the blow was not physical, it was emotional. After all, my hippocampus discarded so many other (rather fun) memories, but kept this one safe – for life. And my amygdala still remembers and relives that fear – the ‘fear’ of not knowing!
By the way, the following year, in Upper KG. I remember carrying a handkerchief to the English class – to cheat, that is. The handkerchief had a beautiful design: the seven days of the week printed in seven vivid colours; spellings – right inside my left fist.
And it brings me to the same point, once again: why did I cheat? I am sure it was not for the marks. After all, which KG kid really gave a hoot about marks, grades, and percentages! To be perfectly honest, I really don’t know. Maybe the two incidents (in LKG and UKG) were linked…maybe not.
But what is bizarre is that it was the last memory I have of cheating in an exam. And that raised another question: ‘why on earth did I stop?’ And to be perfectly honest with you – I do not know for sure.
All I know is that at some point, I realized that it was better to fail with honour (which I did, by the way, and gracefully, honourably and arrogantly).
Of course, I wish it were the case with every Bihari, every Indian, every Eurasian and every Earthian. [In fact, if there is life on another planet and they have a system of standardized testing, we can safely assume that they cheat in exams too.]
Sadly, in the case of the Bihar cheating scandal, we were quick to judge and did not really stop to look at the bigger picture (or at the rest of the world for that matter). After all, this problem is not just limited to Bihar or to UP or to India and Indians alone. For instance, in 2012, a cheating scandal (of an unprecedented magnitude) rocked the very foundation of one of the most prestigious institutes in the world – Harvard!
Well, here are the facts of the Harvard case: (a) it was an open-book, open-note, open-internet final examination, (b) students were not permitted to discuss the exam with others – which included resident tutors, writing centres, etc., (c) individual cases of cheating were investigated for nearly half of the 279 students enrolled in the class, and (d) 70 students were subsequently forced to withdraw.
There are so many questions that the cheating scandal at Harvard throws at us. (1) Why would someone cheat in an open-book, open-note, open-internet examination? (2) Why would someone disregard the “strictly-enforced” ethical standards that are the hallowed cornerstones of Ivy League education? (3) Why would someone not worry about the consequences? (4) Why would someone cheat in an exam that had a reputation of being an ‘easy’ exam? (5) Why would the students risk their academic future when 120 A-s had been guaranteed? (6) What explained the magnitude – why did so many of them cheat?
In fact, cheating (in exams that is) has been around since time immemorial. The first recorded incident of cheating occurred more than 2,000 years ago. As a matter of fact, cheating was so commonplace that during the civil service examinations in ancient China, candidates were not only searched for crib notes, they were confined to individual examination rooms for the duration of the entire exam (which usually lasted three days). This was done in the hope of preventing collaboration. By the way, if you think that was all, think again! The penalty for those caught cheating was death. Yes, you read right: ‘Death would come on swift wings to whomsoever who dared cheateth in those tests’
Of course, you’d think that it would be enough to dissuade potential cheaters. Alas, it was not! Despite these stringent measures, candidates still attempted to cheat with the help of crib notes that were concealed inside concealed pockets. Maybe, a simple search wasn’t enough. Maybe, the Chinese should have implemented a strip search, or better still a thorough body cavity search. Although, truth be told, we’d probably still find some ingenious way to cheat. Don’t know how, but we will!
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