Why students cheatCheating in exams is the result of an outdated system dominated by profit-oriented institutions.
Videos of students cheating in the National Examination Board exams are going viral all over social media again, just like they did last year. Multiple videos have emerged on the first day of the Grade 12 Board Examination, in which students and teachers can be seen engaging in all kinds of cheating tactics. One video shows students in a classroom cheating openly, either by passing notes or copying answers from their mobile phones, while the teacher is either absent or immobile. Another video shows the teacher himself writing the answers on the whiteboard and the students obediently copying them down, as if they are taking notes during their regular classes.
These videos are no surprise. Similar videos emerged last year, and students from all over Nepal expressed their disagreement with the person whose TikTok video of his classmates openly cheating hit every social media outlet and meme page. One of the main reasons behind this disagreement was the fact that students were afraid the National Examination Board might cancel the exams and their home centres could treat them more strictly as a result. This fear of getting caught underlines the fact that even the most prestigious and well-reputed high schools in Nepal weren't above mass cheating and ensuring their students got that perfect GPA. Cheating, as we were taught in school, is immoral and unfair. It robs people of their hard work and time while helping the cheaters achieve an excellent GPA with no requisite knowledge. However, when it came to home centres where the invigilators were their own college staff, these principles were flouted by the very individuals who taught them.
Rote learning method
I believe this phenomenon of teachers helping students cheat, which has explicitly emerged since last year, portrays the very foundational incentive of plus two colleges in Nepal. When you observe a typical plus two college experience, classes are driven towards filling the notes provided by your teachers. These notes are often the answers to common questions that have been frequently asked in the previous examination. This learning system stems from the idea that everything you study is only relevant as long as you write it on those exam sheets. As a result, most teachers use the rote learning method to teach their students, where only certain question-answers are trained and are meant to be memorised by heart. Therefore, ensuring that your students do well in those exams can be observed as the primary incentive of these teachers.
Resemblances of this can be seen in the Indian education system where critics point out similar patterns of rote learning-based education. The Indian education system itself stems from the colonial education system imposed on the oppressed Indians during the British Raj. However, this system was designed to produce factory workers who were taught and trained to follow commands given by their higher officials without question. Corporal punishment is the aftermath as well. Even after the British left, the educational bureaucracy in India remained and trickled down to Nepal, where students are taught the same rote learning method meant to go well in the exams. As this is their perception of education, many teachers could breach their moral codes against teaching. When home centres allowed colleges to guard their students, their incentive was exposed for the world to see.
While teachers have a systemic logic behind breaching these codes, college institutions operate like profit-oriented business firms. Education in Nepal is highly privatised. An economic survey in 2018 conducted by the Ministry of Finance showed that out of the total 35,601 schools in the country, 6,566 are privately owned. When a business model runs education, the primary incentive is recruiting as many students as possible for profit. This justifies the overcrowded classrooms, exorbitant fees, extra charges, lack of facilities, inattentive staff and an uncaring environment inside many educational institutions. A powerful marketing strategy of such colleges is contingent on their students' exam reports. Photos of their high-achieving students are displayed on posters alongside their GPAs. Students, therefore, join such institutions in the hope of graduating with good academic records, regardless of how it is achieved. For this reason, even before the pandemic, many colleges were notoriously rumoured to "buy" college centres, allowing many students to cheat on their finals openly.
No surprise then that when these colleges have home centres and local invigilators, it is easier to get those high scores. External invigilators are seen to be there for just a few minutes, and students report that their teachers instruct them to be silent when they are around. After the external invigilators leave, the momentum restarts. The currently viral videos aren't just about students being opportunistic. They are more prominent depictions of an outdated education system dominated by profit-oriented institutions that fail students in the real world by prioritising abstract numbers over genuine learning. These videos reflect the urgency to analyse the educational culture in Nepal, and how it is not preparing students for their future.