Infrastructure being in shambles, pathetic quality of curriculum and text books, gender inequality, outdated instructional methodologies, lack of suitably qualified staff, poor management and monitoring, among all these and a myriad of other problems that our education system finds itself tackling today, there is an issue that is equally insidious but has gone out of our collective memory.
The issue is cheating in exams. We have decided to forget about this issue because like so many other issues in our national life, we found it very hard to solve. But we can't overlook it indefinitely because it is ruining the very purpose of examinations in our schools. It is an unpleasant fact that we gradually became used to it, and now this phenomenon of cheating in exams or in somewhat technical terms, use of unfair means in exams, has become a norm in our society. Today this malpractice is embedded in the culture of our educational institutions and a necessary part of adventures of student life.
The attitude of our society ,and especially that of students, teachers, parents and educational managers towards this practice of cheating in exams can be best described as ambivalent if not outright supportive of it. Each of these stakeholders have their own set of reasons (compulsions and grievances), because of which they have accepted cheating in exams as a necessary evil, and because of which they tolerate, facilitate or indulge in this malpractice.
As for the students this is more than just the last resort, this has become an acceptable means to achieve desired grades in exams. A vast majority of students deem this to be their right to use cheat sheets in exams, and to help their friends and be helped by their friends in exams. This notion is well established in student psyche that if you don't help your friends in exams you will be labeled as mean and cowardly. Even under strictest invigilation, you are expected by your friend to whisper a "fill in the blank "in your ear, if you can't do it you are not a reliable friend. Fear of failure, peer pressure, fierce competition and unequal opportunities push students to adopt cheating in exams as a behavior and they try to excel at that.
Parents don't want their children to waste their time in studying easy and cheap fine arts subjects, instead they want them to study science and mathematics, and become engineer, doctor or a business executive at all costs to make them proud. Students in order to make their parents proud, study really hard, even if they aren't good at studies, they leave no stone unturned and make use of any means to do this, this includes cheating in exams.
Now we turn our attention towards teachers and ponder over the question as to why teachers find themselves bound to tolerate, facilitate or administer cheating in exams. The problem is that the underpaid teachers are expected to produce hundred percent results in annual exam every year. Teachers have to teach students with a very broad spectrum of IQ levels and individual differences and have to make them pass the same standardized test called annual board exam. Teachers know very well in their hearts that they can't make every student pass the exam, no matter how hard they try, because there are always such students, and they form a very large chunk of our student population, who cannot pass examination because of so many factors teachers can't control.
Every year students fail because they are not interested in studying the subject they are being taught, or they don't have the right aptitude for that subject. Sometimes students fail because they don't have positive motivation from their parents and family. Students may also fail in exams because of psychological reasons. In many cases teachers' negligence and incompetence is responsible for students' failures, but this is just one of the many reasons. Despite this fact, teachers get bulk of the blame for students' failure. In government sector teachers try to get good results artificially by making arrangements for cheating in annual exams. They do this out of fear for their salary increments, promotions and job security.
Private sector's reckless drive for profit is widely thought to be associated with the genesis and spread of cheating culture in educational institutions. Good grades and results is the product that private schools sell and market, and these schools go to any length to produce hundred percent passing ratios in board exams. They bribe the invigilators, or get the whole examination hall booked for cheating. Some rich private schools are known to buy top positions in annual board exams. The sole aim of many private schools is maximizing their profits, and attractive examination results are the chief marketing tool.
Then what are the boards of education or the invigilators doing to bring this malpractice of cheating to a halt. Secrecy departments of most of the boards of intermediate and secondary education make great efforts to ensure smooth and transparent conduct of exams. But there are serious limitations in their ability to ensure effective supervision and invigilation. Invigilators can perform their duties in cities with relative ease because law and order situation in cities is often better. In far flung and remote areas they face many problems in carrying out their duties. In remote areas invigilation staff faces transport and accommodation issues. Law and order being weak, they are sometimes threatened and forced into allowing concessions. Cheating in exams in remote areas is so common that students who can't even pass exams in cities, get good grades by opting to take exam in remote areas.
The chief purpose of examinations is to determine the extent to which a student has learned the contents of course, cheating in exams ruins the very purpose of examinations. Widespread use of cheating to pass and get good grades has reduced exams to a meaningless activity, by undermining the very purpose of examinations. Our education policy makers need to take this issue very seriously if they want to improve the quality of education.