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The article titled “Stop That” in The Hindu, dated 30-12-2019, addressed the issue of malpractice in entrance examinations which are conducted at a larger scale. I was dealing with a similar issue at the classroom level.
Many of my colleagues could easily identify any conventional methods of copying employed by the students and I always admired their skills. From tiny Bluetooth headsets to smartwatches which are freely available in the market these days, I can think of different ways students can misuse technology for their benefit during exams – policing which is a Himalayan task at the moment.
A solution employed by most of the institutions is to make more stringent rules like banning mobile phones during exam days. No matter what we attempt, historically, students have always outguessed and outsmarted us. That remained a challenge for a long time and the solution was simpler than I thought.
Before one of the class tests, the students were surprised with an announcement that they are free to copy if they feel they should. I gave them some time to digest what they just heard. I went on to add: “But write this test to know how much you understood the subject and see where you have to improve yourselves.”
I assured that I will consider only the best three of 5 similar tests including this, for their finals. That is a usual practice – but I emphasised on it to make it clear that risks are low if you score low. That would reduce their fear of losing marks, which often tempts them to indulge in such malpractices. During the test, I did walk out of the class a couple of times, telling that “I trust you to play nice“.
Just as I read in Braithwaite’s To Sir with Love, being treated as an adult did work some magic. Some refrained from any malpractices, some who used to let others copy from them, did not let them do it this time.
f it was a film, this is the moment the teacher walks out of the class with a smile of victory on their face. But I knew I am not living in a utopian world.
Some did copy.
At the end of the test, I told them that “If you have copied, be brave enough to accept it, and I promise you this will not affect your academics negatively in any way”. I made it known to them that I will be approachable if they feel what they did is wrong.
Then I went on to assure them that I know how it feels. I told them the only time I tried to help my classmate, in 9th standard, and the invigilator saw me do it. Though the issue ended with a warning from the invigilator, that day, I decided never to copy or let others copy from me again. I made a decision and stuck to it ever since.
At times, we teachers tend to try to hide our mistakes. More often we manage to do it successfully so that we are those perfect role models the students and the society expects us to be. Times have changed, the students want a human role model they can follow, not a superhuman to set the bar way too high.
In a day, pricked by consciousness, a few of them approached me and confessed the crime. Instead of punishment, they were sent back with a promise that I respect their honesty. They were asked to review the paper and were reasonable adults to point out the facts they copied.
The test was designed so that I can identify those who copied. Those whom I identified and had not approached me earlier, I confronted them and asked them if they copied. They felt confident enough to accept their mistake. I told them I would give them zero in the test since they did not come forward when they were asked to, but as only 3 of 5 tests are considered, they accepted the punishment to be fair.
This punishment did not sting their life forever – like banning them from exams or reducing their overall average, some of the common punishments followed in colleges these days, but it did inject the message into their hearts. Punished them to correct them, not to make them feel the sting for their mistake for the rest of their life.
Rest of the four tests were a cakewalk for me and them – they wrote the test for themselves. They approached me personally, after each test to know things they did not know and to know how to understand it better. They were not disappointed at their marks, even if it is zero. They worked equally harder after examinations, to understand what they missed, instead of throwing away their books, as I used to do after each test during my time.
This was the response of college students to my appeal. Imagine the difference it would’ve made if examinations were placed in the right perspective during their school days itself.
This was the response of college students, to my appeal. Imagine the difference it would’ve made if examinations were placed in the right perspective during their school days itself.
Did it have an impact on them in the long term?
I do not have any clear statistics for it. Having trusted me with a sin they would’ve hidden from a teacher at any cost – those students who confessed that they copied during that particular test, always came back, to be mentored in the right path. Even after they got their degree, most of them are still in touch.
A semester later, and I was not teaching them anymore, one of the students whom I had confronted for copying back then, came to me with his next semester results. He had failed in many papers and passed a few. He told me, “Sir, the exams I passed, I did it without any malpractice, and I am proud of the ones I lost as well”.
It must have made an impact on some of their lives. But there’s no empirical way to measure it, that would satisfy a mathematician like me.