cheating in China

I’m not sure if it only happens in the foreign teacher classes, but my colleagues and I have been having a hell of a time stopping students from cheating on our finals. Out of the twenty classes I teach, there were only three where I didn’t catch cheating. I had students blatantly turning in their seats to tell friends the test answers, girls switching papers and taking the test for their friends, boys looking at answer sheets in desks, and even one student going through my folders for the answer sheet and writing them down on a note.

(My final test is not hard. It’s vocabulary that we’ve been studying for the past six weeks. Multiple choice. Arranged in three sections. Very, very, laughably easy.)

I’m not an expert on China by any means, just a casual observer casually observing a culture of cheating and wondering where it comes from.

One of my Chinese friends has impeccable English. Her part-time job for a few months was to collect a fake ID card, go to another Chinese city, pretend to be a student and take the SATs or TEFL for her student client. Underground businesses like these — selling test-takers — aren’t rare by any means; she says that every time she’s taken a test like this, she’s known several other professional test-takers in the room with her.

These tests determine if the Chinese students have the English skills to get into a college in the US, UK, Australia, etc. (My friend relishes the fact that once the cheating students get there, they will likely have to drop out because they can’t pay off anyone to speak English for them in daily life…) Coincidentally, her American boyfriend was on the other side of the issue: When he attended college in the States, many Chinese students went over to study abroad with high TEFL scores, yet a number of them couldn’t speak past a middle school level. He worked in the school cafeteria where all study abroad students automatically were offered a job; many of the Chinese students with high TEFL scores were relegated to kitchen duties because they couldn’t communicate with the diners.

There’s also the issue of plagiarism on the college level, and not just students, but professors. A simple Google search brings up plenty of blogs about the issue. It’s kind of a joke between the expats in Nanjing that a Chinese diploma isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on because the standards of education are somewhat low. Most expat students study Chinese — the one subject that is, obviously, worth while — or stay for one semester of easy As and cheap beer.

Though I wonder if these kids cheating in my class are actually pretty clever; with the amount of bribery that goes on in the adult world in China, they may just be getting some practice. The thing that gets me, though, is that a lot of the times the kids I caught cheating were intelligent ones who would have passed easily anyway. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t fly in my classroom and a few unhappy students got their first zero grade ever. Hopefully it’ll be their last…

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