This column has always castigated the practice of cheating in examinations as well as the forging of academic documents. I have seen for myself how prevalent these two vices operate and how they are nothing but a cancer in our education system. A student who is known to cheat in exams will soon ‘upgrade’ to forging report cards and other academic documents.
As testimony to the prevalence of these vices, last week this newspaper reported that two officials of Rutsiro District were forced to resign after it was discovered that they had forged degree certificates of a university in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not surprisingly, the two officials are also implicated in financial mismanagement of the district funds.
At the beginning of this week, the National University of Rwanda dismissed and revoked the academic transcripts of two third-year students who were being investigated and found to have been involved in examination malpractices spanning three years.
According to the story, one, Fred Mugabe was hired to do exams for Augustine Murigande for the last three years. The fact that these two could dupe our main university for three years tells a lot about how entrenched the vice of cheating has become.
I wish to commend the university officials for taking the bull by the horns as far as this problem is concerned. One of the best strategies of dealing with this problem is the naming and shaming of the culprits. By expelling these cheats and even leaking their names to the media, the university sent a strong message to the rest of the students that cheating is not acceptable in the university.
How I wish the university had gone a step further and offered the photographs of these two students the way wanted criminals are displayed in the newspapers. This would even help prospective employers to be careful when dealing with hiring similar fraudsters!
Universities in Rwanda may borrow a leaf from Makerere University in Uganda where academic fraudsters are dismissed and not allowed to rejoin the university ever again on top of being exposed in the major newspapers and on all the university notice boards.
My observation is that the punishments prescribed for examination cheats at the lower levels of the education hierarchy are soft and thus encourage rather than, deter the vice from growing. I know of schools where examination cheats only suffer a ten-mark deduction penalty. What this means is that a cheat still stands a chance of scoring 90 percent in an exam. And so, to some it is always worth the risk.
Naming, shaming and expelling anyone caught cheating at the primary and secondary school level is the best way to nip this vice in the bud. By raising the punishment bar, students will find it very risky and actually pointless to think of cheating in examinations.
The current system has made some students addicted to the vice which they have carried to the universities. Heavy punishments far outweigh strict vigilance because they serve as a deterrent. I strongly recommend that examination cheats receive nothing short of an expulsion even when caught cheating during tests.
Schools must also be very keen when admitting students since a good number of them have been known to present false documents. It may be helpful to contact their previous schools. In the same light, parents should also be careful when looking at the report cards that their children present to them. Crosschecking with the school may prove helpful in case of suspected fraud.
All stakeholders in the education sector need to fight this problem because once these cheats go through the system and later take up jobs, we shall forever be guaranteed of poor quality work and services.