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A different kind of cheating

  1. Mar 22, 2015 #1


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    Evo's recent post on cheating in India schools reminded me of a very different rationale for cheating in Laos schools and a story that goes with it. I didn't want to hijack that thread but I am very proud of my daughter, as you'll see:

    My daughter, Alexandria, is in Laos on a 2 year assignment teaching English to high school students. This is with a religious organization, but that's another whole story.

    Early in her first year there she gave one class an assignment to write 5 sentences about some particular topic that she felt would be both interesting to them and not require any depth of knowledge of English to do well.

    When they turned in their papers the next day she was thrilled because many of them had written most of a page and all of them had done at least the full 5 sentences. When she got home she was appalled to find that there were only perhaps 6 original papers out of the 30+ and all of the others had obviously been copied either word for word or very close and even the 6 were clearly collaborative in some sentences.

    She had some sense of what was going on and discussed it with a colleague who had been there longer. Bottom line was this: the kids there don't think of that as cheating at all. It's a communal culture and this kind of behavior is utterly normal.

    Now we get to why I am very proud of how my daughter handled it. She knew that berating the kids would be totally counter productive and she couldn't figure out how to deal with it but was extremely stressed about it and could not just let it pass.

    She happened to be giving a lecture the next day on comparatives/superlatives, still trying to figure out how to address the "cheating" issue, and as she was writing down "high, higher, highest" she had what I think was a terrific idea.

    She turned to the class and said with a big smile. "I am SO happy to be here in Laos teaching you. I am happier than I have been in many years. I am the happiest teacher in this school". The kids were thrilled (they are VERY polite and respectful of authority figure such as teachers) and were all grins and clapping.

    Then she frowned and said "But not today. Today I am very sad. I am the saddest teacher in the school", and of course they were devastated. She went on to explain to them very politely that by copying each others papers they were making it hard for her to be successful in teaching them English and that she would be much happier if they would do their own work.

    It didn't change the culture of course, but it did result in less copying, particularly for the next few assignments and for a while thereafter and I think it was a brilliant way to deal with it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2015 #2


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    Thats a great story.
  4. Mar 23, 2015 #3


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    Cheating being a cultural thing - never thought about it that way, as your story does point out.

    Perhaps, from an authoritarian perspective, rules are to be followed. By not adherring to the rules, a person is cheating one way or the other.

    From the human personal perspective, rules are constraining, and need to be broken to get things done.

    On that note, an opposite working hypothesis: the students were excellent in collaboration, with the exchange of ideas, and working in a groups. Doing that, the sharing and exchange of ideas resulted in the best ideas rising to the top, selected, and presented as being the collective achievement of them all. What's more, they did the group work without any formal training or guidance

    So, what do the students do if she asks of them to work in groups of 5 or so for an assigment? Hmmmm
  5. Mar 23, 2015 #4


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    I don't think you learn much by just copying someone elses work. That's not what "collaboration" means to me. As she explained it, they mostly just copy, not collaborate in any meaningful way. Some of them collaborate but it's not the predominant feature of the situation. She tells me that independent thought and standing out from the crowd are frowned on there.
  6. Mar 23, 2015 #5


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    Oh, and just to be sure I was clear in the original post, it is NOT cheating as far as they are concerned, it's just the way things are done. She knew that trying to talk to them in terms of cheating was an absolute non-starter. She would have been berating them for following their cultural norm.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
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