Monday, 21 October 2013

Cheating and Education

The decision by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) to revoke the grades of the entire sixth form cohort at Jamaica College who sat the 2013 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Physics Examination (CAPE) is both embarrassing and disturbing and might have caused irreparable damage to Jamaica’s education system. This most unfortunate episode speaks to the glaring lapses within the education system and moral crisis we face as a society. As a result there is now an urgent need for quality assurance measures to be instituted across all levels of the education system from the primary to the tertiary level in order to safeguard Jamaica’s reputation regarding educational outcome. At the same time the Caribbean Examination Council’s judgment should be commended and indeed should be viewed as an opportunity for all stakeholders within the education system to develop standards and means to safeguard the integrity of our examination especially as we move forward in an era transparency and accountability. Quality assurance is the systematic review of educational programmes to ensure that acceptable standards of education, scholarship and infrastructure are being maintained. However, a significant part of our problem is the fact that we do not have a sufficient history of quality assurance practices in this country especially as it compares to other societies and cultures. However, all is not lost but we need to address the issue most urgently and work at creating and fostering a culture of quality assurance practices along with educating our students about the perils of plagiarism. With this development our students now have seen firsthand the dangers of cheating. Cheating has a domino effect and this painful lesson is a lesson for all of us in the society. This episode should point out to all stake holders how cheating negatively impacts not only the individual but also an institution and even an entire country. 
Jamaica now has the opportunity to put in place measures to ensure we do not have a repeat of this embarrassing situation, however, me must first address the tendency in the society to downplay the importance of intellectual property rights as a serious issue. For some reason we do not valuable creative works, such as, poetry, music and, choreography dance pieces as meaningful and productive work. This adds to the difficulty we now face for us to see plagiarism as a way of cheating. We need to work harder at changing that culture and the change should begin now. Maybe this is an ideal opportunity for the Ministry of Education to incorporate issues of Plagiarism into the Social Studies curriculum for grades 7 to 9 and even to the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level. We must admit and sadly so that too many individuals of questionable backgrounds are in the teaching profession from the level of principal to the classroom teacher. As a result of this fact we should not be alarmed if more instances of plagiarism as is the case of Jamaica College and other forms of cheating and irregularities are not found throughout our institutions of learning.We should thank the Caribbean Examination Council’s swift and decisive move as it relates to bringing an end this awkward situation which has wider implications than just the school involved but also in terms of how our Caribbean neighbours’ view us especially in a globalized text and the movement of Caribbean nationals especially Jamaicans throughout CARICOM. By virtue of being a principal one automatically assumes the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). To claim lack of knowledge regarding what is happening in one’s school is totally unacceptable of one holding such an office. Additionally this lack of foresight speaks volume to one’s management skills and leadership style as well. We need to ask ourselves a number of questions in light of this revelation.
What if the former Physics teacher at Jamaica College did not tip off the Caribbean Examination Council regarding the issue of plagiarism? Can we be sure this grave and unethical offence was happening for the first time? What is the role of the Ministry of Education regarding issues of quality assurance for our regional and national examinations? What disciplinary measures will be taken against the Physics teacher who is at the centre of the controversy? What about the Head of the Department and Vice Principal in charge of academic affairs.  Were these individuals doing their jobs in terms of monitoring and evaluating the staff and the department in question? What about the sixth formers involved especially those who were in upper sixth form and would have been depending on the Physics grades to enter tertiary level educational institutions? Will be the Caribbean Examination Council be reviewing past examinations in light of this most unfortunate development Should the Ministry of Education now explore the possibilities of storing regional and national examination papers at centralized locations across the country rather than at the respective schools? Surely we must take every step imaginable to safeguard the integrity and quality of our examinations. Let us not fool ourselves when we operate in an unethical manner there are always serious implications for those directly and indirectly impacted by our selfish and self serving actions. This sculled episode should be used as a learning tool and a wake up for all schools to put their house in order and abide by guide lines and rules regarding School Based Assessment (SBA) and the sitting of examinations. I am reminded that a few years ago the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) went through an embarrassing affair after it was discovered that students at a particular school had seen the examination before the schedule date of the examination.  
There is a saying that says, “tek sleep and mark death “It has always been alleged that some teachers are in the habit of doing their students Schools Based Assessment (SBA, S) whether these allegations will ever be proven or not is beside the point. This practice is tantamount to cheating and most unethical. I would humbly suggest even implore that any such teacher caught up in this dilemma they should discontinue this unprofessional practice.  As an educator your job is to guide your students not to find means to facilitate them in cheating. When all the dust is settled no one wants to be known as a cheat. Perception is sometimes more than reality. As a potential learning  experience all the stakeholders involved, the schools, parents, teachers, students, school boards, the Ministry of Education should come together so as to prevent a repeat of this most distressing saga in the annals of Jamaica’s education system.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.