The time for end of semester examinations in tertiary institutions arrives once again this month. Students have been raking their brains in attempts to do well in their examinations.
Some of the students who have prepared diligently have had ambitious aims of not only passing their examinations, but passing them very well indeed.
It is in this group of high achievers where future university professors are to be found.
Another group that comprises university students is those who are not well prepared. Those in this group may have been absent in quite a number of lectures.
This means that what their lecturers had covered in lecture halls may only have been discovered from reading colleagues’ notes.
This kind of approach normally does not produce very satisfactory results since full understanding of concepts expounded during lectures is missing.
It is also a fact that students who have weak examination preparation skills normally do not have high scores from assignments, tasks or experiments done during the semester.
Such students dread examinations to such an extent that a few do not sit for their examination papers.
All manner of maladies suddenly afflict them, thus giving them an excuse for not doing their examinations when their colleagues are doing theirs.
Universities normally give them a second chance when they come for special examinations after they have provided medical reports which prove their incapacitation.
Sometimes these medical reports are suspect. A few students sit for their examinations fully knowing that they stand no chance of passing at all.
Such students come prepared to cheat in order to pass their papers. The saddest truth of cheating problem in tertiary institutions is that if not firmly dealt with, fake degrees or diplomas can easily be bestowed to undeserving academic thieves as one institution of higher education was shocked to discover recently.
Academic thieves come armed with all manner of survival tricks which are sometimes new to university invigilators.
Young university lecturers are sometimes outwitted by older students who have perfected examination cheating skills.
Since such students know the consequences of being found out are academically fatal, they have been known to quickly destroy evidence or sometimes resort to violence; roughing up the hapless invigilator, for example.
The writer of this article is aware of a case where a student chewed and swallowed the examination piece of evidence she had been caught reading.
It is no wonder that tertiary institutions have come up with various strategies meant to combat the cheating problem.
One of these strategies is making sure many students do not complete examinations in small rooms or halls.
Vigilance has been beefed by availability of more invigilators in examination rooms.
The invigilators are able to monitor what is going on, especially during the last few minutes of the examination when desperate students seek support from their colleagues.
It is during such moments when brief points in tiny slips of paper – cleverly hidden in all manner of places – are quickly glanced, when a student will pretend to be going through his raised paper while he actually wants his friend who is behind to read the correct answers, when unswitched off mobiles could be used and when thighs of lady students could be providing useful information.
Occasionally some brilliant students are also involved in cheating malpractice.
Since their ambition is to pass very well in their examinations, they use some cheating tactics to help them add a few more marks.
Such students are normally interested in either proving to themselves, family members or fellow students that they are smart, above average university students.
Sadly they attempt to achieve recognition using underhanded methods.
At the graduate level, students writing term papers or theses have also been known to embark on certain subtle forms of cheating.
Unknown to a non-suspecting professor, such students could use other scholars’ materials without acknowledging the sources.
The Internet has also been used as a source of pirated material, especially from referred academic journals.
Only a very eagle eyed, widely read professor is able to detect the bogus nature of these seemingly well written theses or term papers.
Lazy graduate or undergraduate students like copying their colleagues’ essays; sometimes word for word.
These are students who do not have enough time to plan for and write their end of term papers.
Consequently, they sweet-talk their hard-working gullible colleagues into allowing them to just read their papers only to reproduce them as their own.
In some western countries, students have been known to hire professional essay or paper writers!
In some of the worst cheating cases, some desperate university students have been known to exchange sexual favours with their professors who leak examination questions.
Such unprofessional behaviour calls for immediate action as soon as evidence that is able to sustain conviction is made available.
Tertiary institutions which do not deal firmly and swiftly with such unprofessional lecturers allow sources of the cancer of cheating to flourish in universities.
In these days of HIV/Aids, desperate students who like reaping where they have not sown pose a grave danger to both their fellow students and professors.
Since most of these students are well known, there is need for tertiary institutions to offer them counseling services – especially when they have been caught in the act – before they are asked to leave the institutions.
A few years ago a student in one university in Kenya published a long list of all the students and staff members she had had sex with when she found that she was HIV-positive.
Such a sad episode can be avoided if university authorities, students and professors are vigilant and are all willing to abide by the rules and regulations of proper conduct.
Sexual harassment in tertiary institutions facilitates very subtle forms of the cancer of cheating in examinations.
Sadly, this type of cancer is not easily detected – until it is too late.
It is clear from the above discussion that cheating in examination is an academic aberration that needs to be stamped out fast in all tertiary institutions lest the public start being suspicious of graduates from these institutions.
Since cheating starts at both primary and secondary school levels; head teachers, the inspectorate, and the National Examination Council should all be vigilant.
Schools found to be cheating should have their examination results shelved and students found to have been involved shouldn’t be allowed to repeat.
The culture of cheating in examinations is the foundation of various forms of corruption in any society.
Unless it is nipped in the bud, it becomes very difficult to remove when, like full blown cancer, it spreads its tentacles later on in life.
The tragedy of the cheating cancer is that it sucks the moral fibre of its victims, thus making their consciences pricked.
These victims keep on remembering the academic thuggery they were involved in many years after leaving primary, secondary or even university. How sad!
The writer teaches at Kigali Institute of Education