I remember writing tests in elementary school. My teacher would often step out for a moment to run errands or chat in the hall. The second we were alone every student’s head would pop up in unison, looking around to make sure we were in the clear. Then the first voice would chime in a stage whisper, “What’s number three?” Answers would follow from around the class.
Certainly we knew that what we were doing wasn’t allowed. But in our young minds it wasn’t quite understood. After all, surely what we were doing wasn’t bad, like cheating. We were just helping each other out.
As the years advanced, my teachers became more and more vigilant and vocal about the perils of plagiarism. I was delivered the same speech routinely: if I were to be caught cheating I would receive an automatic mark of zero, and if I thought that was bad I should see what they would do to me at university. I was forced to submit assignments using Turnitin.com, an online plagiarism detection service. I wrote tests surrounded on all sides by giant corrugated dividers so that any way I looked all I could see was grey plastic. When compared to the ease with which I traded answers in the fourth grade, I should think the risk of cheating long ago outweighed the rewards. I would assume that anything but the utmost academic integrity in my peers would be shocking. This is far from the case. Fourth grade vices live on as the stakes rise. Cheating is commonplace – even routine for many students.
Up until this point I haven’t felt compelled to speak publicly on the matter, but as I approach the end of my high school career the issue has started to feel more personal. I, along with many other grade twelve students, have applied to university. I have done so knowing that my acceptance will be based largely on the average of my top six 4U marks. With this knowledge comes a pressure to perform at a higher level than in any past years, every percentage point on my grade feels as if it could be the difference between my first choice school and the back-up to my back-up. So now when I hear about students selling tests, or even giving them away for free I get a little antsy.
It is not unheard of for entire albums of test solutions to be posted on Facebook. This angers me on a couple of levels. First of all, this gives a certain group of students a leg up over those without access to, or who choose not to take advantage of the extra resource. And secondly, in posting on a public platform you are making the statement that you believe what you are doing to be acceptable — perhaps even noble or admirable. It’s been a while since we’ve sat in a circle on the carpet and read the code of conduct as a class, maybe it’s time for a refresher.
My message here is two-fold: I would like to address both the teachers and the students of MGCI. Teachers, it is never safe to assume that your students will not cheat if given the opportunity. Perhaps this is cynical, but in this case it is your responsibility to be a cynic. Change your tests from semester to semester and make full use of technologies such as Turnitin. It is your job to ensure that no student has an unfair advantage, like their older sibling’s tests or their friend’s summative report from last semester. Take a proactive role in creating a learning environment that requires learning rather than memorizing answer sheets off of a Facebook post.
And students, have some self respect. Take pride in your education. Earn every mark through your own efforts rather than the work of those before you. And never assume that your actions are acceptable just because no one is calling you out. In case you’re unclear: sharing tests, answers, or essays is still cheating even if you don’t get caught. It is our collective responsibility to preserve the integrity of our education, and it concerns me that many seem to have lost track of what that even means.