During training, we were warned by veteran volunteers that cheating might be an issue at our schools. Until this past week, the only sort of cheating I had come across personally was copied homework assignments. Over the last few days, I saw students openly share and compare answers during each and every midterm exam that I helped proctor [more on midterms to come].
Having been forewarned, I wasn’t shocked to see the students cheat during their exams, but I was quite surprised how obvious they were about it. I saw students turn around to chat with their neighbors and mouth answers to friends across the room, sometimes not even bothering to whisper. What did I do about it? Truthfully, not a whole lot.
My co-proctors didn’t seem especially concerned, so I took their lead, but I decided for myself that I couldn’t make it as easy as all that on the students or their consciences. When I caught them collaborating, I gave them looks ranging from disappointed to downright dirty. I stood next to their desks and blocked their co-conspirators from view. I needn’t have bothered. The moment I turned my attention elsewhere, they were right back at it.
My withering looks and human wall strategy may not have been particularly effective deterrents, but I see them as a prelude to the conversation I want to have with my students and my fellow teachers throughout the rest of my service.
The fact is, I don’t blame the students. They are part of a school system that is in flux, a system that is subject to influences outside its control. In Indonesia, like in many countries, including the United States, public education is too often politicized. Legislators and other officials zealously latch on to trends in pedagogy, and they are quick to blame or reject anything they regard as a hurdle in the way of their pet projects. Trends are tricky though. Learning is nothing new, so old should not be confused with ineffective, when it comes to methodology, and change should not be mistaken for progress.
Confronted with evolving (and sometimes confusing) curricula, overburdened teachers, who often shoulder administrative or other responsibilities in addition to their course load, and an Indonesian penchant for prioritizing the unscheduled over the planned, viz. actual class time, it’s no wonder that some students lack both the conceptual tools and the confidence to complete an exam or other assignment on their own.
I will continue to actively discourage students from cheating, but I feel uncomfortable punishing them without first working to better equip them for their academic journey. Together with my teaching counterparts, I aim to at least try to cultivate a more structured environment and a level of consistency in the classroom that I hope will lead to a higher degree of self-reliance on the students’ part.
My students certainly know they’re not supposed to share answers with one another—I had to stifle a few laughs, when I saw their embarrassed and/or frustrated faces upon being caught—but I believe it’s more complicated than wanting a shortcut. Indonesian society is communal by nature, and I have already benefited—on multiple occasions—from the unreserved and ungrudging willingness of my Indonesian friends and neighbors to help in a pinch. Here, school is just one more manifestation of community, and students are the friends and neighbors. In the end, it’s the teachers’ job to train students, both to appreciate knowledge, and to help themselves, so they aren’t compelled to rely on their classmates or forced to withhold the helping hand they would otherwise offer so readily.