The much dreaded physics exams was only hours away. Kunle was restless. He doubted if he knew enough to excel. His mind started to race. He was beginning to pant at the thought flying through his mind. Just this one time. Otherwise, how else? He convinced himself.
As the examination papers were served and it was time to start, all his fears came alive. He couldn’t afford the failure that sat staring at him. No choice but to execute his plan.
Cheating may be a red flag alert that a student needs help. When cheating gets to our knowledge, we must think not just about punishing the behavior, but also about correcting it. Correcting the behavior requires getting to the root of the reason behind it- why are our children cheating? Is this a one-time adolescent mistake, a call for help from stressed-out students or a fast lane for an ill-prepared, lazy student?
In trying to determine what prompted the cheat, pay particular attention to academic deficiencies, poor study habits, feelings of academic anxiety, and parental pressure to succeed. A student might be motivated to cheat, for example, because of intense pressure to do well in school or a lack of confidence in his ability to succeed. You might determine that he would benefit from academic support prior to the test, after school tutoring, or peer coaching. If you conclude that the cheating reflects a lack of confidence, find opportunities to encourage the student, highlight his accomplishments, and foster a feeling of academic success.
If as parents or teachers, we always expect children to perform exceedingly well, then cheating can become a self-defense mechanism under the strain of this tremendous pressure. A child may feel that she has no other option than to cheat as a means to achieve success.
Research has shown repeatedly that students cheat more often when they’re in classes where the teacher is perceived as stressing the importance of grades and test scores. As teachers, we need to think about the messages we are sending. If the message is always ‘test, test, test,’ then there may be more cheating. However, a different message that teachers can send is that what is most important is learning, not testing. This doesn’t mean we should eliminate tests, but rather focus more on why the skills and concepts are important, with learning, mastery, and understanding as the key outcomes.
When students are caught cheating, it is equally important that amidst the embarrassing mess, we stay calm. If we immediately get furious and start punishing, the result may be that students will continue to cheat and just try harder to avoid being caught.
So how do we turn this dishonest impulse into a valuable life lesson?
We need to place this big elephant in the middle of the room and describe it. Most children have a true understanding of right and wrong. However, like every sinful act, its prevalence in the society may begin to get them comfortable. We need to let them know the realities of cheating- it is dishonest and they really learn nothing- which can keep them behind the class, especially since one concept/skill usually build towards the next …would that then mean they will forever be cheating to make up??? It will also destroy their reputation as a honourable person. It undermines future successes. It has cost otherwise successful people in all walks of life- in the business world, politics, sports etc to lose out and face enormous consequences. That some people, somewhere do it does not right it.
When a child cheats, we need to understand where he went wrong so that he can be better guided and helped to learn what he can do differently in the future. Discuss the seriousness of what he did and ask him about the kinds of stresses and pressures that may have motivated him to cheat. You may ask:
- What made you cheat?
- How did you do it?
- Is it the first time?
- What has taking this class been like?
- Did you understand the material?
- Which parts of the class are easy? Hard? Stressful?
- How prepared were you for this test?
- What could you have done differently to prepare?
- How available are your teachers or classmates to help you? When can you meet with them?
- Have you asked the teachers to clarify difficult areas?
Simply providing undesirable consequences for cheating, without focusing on the underlying reasons for the behavior, can have the effect of making students more crafty cheaters.
In a situation where cheating is prevalence, reflect:
- Is a child valued only what he achieves? Often we send the message that we value a child because he’s athletic or he gets good grades at school. How often do we tell children we value them for mere putting an effort, making a good decision or doing the right thing?
- Cheating is the result of making a wrong choice.
- Cheating may be epidemic in our world today. However, it is only a failure if there is no lesson learnt in its commission. Regardless of how wrong it is, the cheating may be a cry for help — and a sign that important aspects of this child’s life and education have been overlooked. It is our job to help students locate these lessons- amid the embarrassment and reprisal.
“Too many consequences blunts learning”
Embarrassment and guilt is a natural result of cheating. Yet, it remains an opportunity, a teachable moment and learning curve for all. As such, we must not cover for our children when they cheat. In responding to students who have cheated, we send an important message to other students about the consequences of cheating. Failure to confront a child who cheats might lead other students to believe that they too can cheat with impunity. Hold cheating students accountable for the consequences of their actions. They may have to:
- Redo the work
- Receive a failing grade for the test
- Submit a paper work/project on cheating (It could be part of their end of term papers or holiday assignment to research and present real life examples of people who cheated- in business, sport, politics etc and the consequences).
Cheating thrives where there is increased emphasis on grades which sadly, is the reality of our environment. Our society puts so much emphasis on winning. Winning isn’t everything. As parents, we need to counteract this message and stress that performing honestly and losing is more honorable than cheating and winning.
Every day presents a fresh opportunity to motivate and encourage our children to be not just learners for the grades, but real life-long learners. As the end of term examinations knock, find out what areas of learning your child is struggling with and make a sincere effort to re-inspire him that if it is humanly possible to excel, it is up to him to do so… Indeed, you and I have a role to play in reversing this malpractice- one student at a time.