Note: This post can also be found in my personal blog Trippings
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah! (image via MemeCreator.org)
It is the finals week and I am checking the papers of my students. I am very shocked to find out that none of them could do citations properly and more than half of them copied materials from the internet word for word. During the midterm exams, half of them obviously copied from another student (I know this because a lot of them have exactly the same answers, same number of correct and incorrect answers and, as ridiculous as it is, same number of misspelled words. There were even two essays that are exactly identical). As a teacher, this is appalling. As a former student who was always reminded of academic honesty, this is hideous.
But what am I to do? If I am to impose an iron hand, I should fail the lot of them. Cheating and dishonesty in the classrooms can be the beginning of future dishonesty. Plagiarism has been a major issue in the Philippines lately. There was a big scandal in 2010 in which a Supreme Court judge, Justice Mariano del Castillo was accused of plagiarism. People from the academe, especially the faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law, were very vocal in their statement against the said act, which made them the target of the Supreme Court. There was a lot of heat in the event with Asian Correspondent writer Carlos Conde saying in one of his articles that “Philippine justice (is) a laughing stock”. Just this year, there is the senator Tito Sotto who shamelessly plagiarized an American blogger and even former US senator Robert Kennedy. He denied both cases even though the evidence was clearly there with his chief-of-staff admitting that passages were lifted from Sarah Pope’s blog and a copy of Sen. Sotto’s word for word translation of Kennedy’s 1966 speech made available in the internet. He brushed it off just like that, as if nothing happened. After that, he had the audacity to put ‘libel’ in the Cybercrime law to stop people from flooding him with hate speech.
Oh crap! They caught me! (image via ellentordesillas.com)
With government officials getting away with plagiarism issues, what message does that send to the people (especially the youth)? What does that say about our principles and values? “Certainly if it’s okay for them, then it is okay for us too. Because nobody cares, really.” Intellectual honesty is not valued enough. People like the Supreme Court justice and the senator should know better. And really, they should own up to their mistakes and not hide in the curtains of the “law” like the cowards that they are right now.
Back to the students. For them, the image regarding plagiarism is bleak. But then I wonder if there is an image at all. I am teaching in the university. First day of class I told them about plagiarism and that it could cause them a failing grade. I told them about citations, but I’m not an English teacher and we don’t have time to cover it properly (except for one sitting). However, my words have gone unheeded. But why? They’ve been in school, in the education system for 10-12 years before I’ve even met them. Most of them gave me a confused look when I said the word plagiarism and I had to spell it out on the board. P-L-A-G-I-A-R-I-S-M. Deliberately copying another’s idea and/or writings without attribution. Of course proving that a person plagiarized an idea is kinda tricky, but copying texts is more obvious. After my words, everybody said okay, but here I am several months later checking papers directly copied from the internet without quotations, without citations. And I’m screaming in my head, WHY??! Do they think I’m an idiot? And yes, I am frustrated.
They’ve been in school 10-12 years yet cheating doesn’t seem to make most of them feel any remorse (but I’d say that I also have students who really work hard and I am very proud of them). Does that say anything about our educational system? Why hasn’t it been remedied in between their 10-12 years in school? Teaching in the tertiary level, it’s hard to change some things that have already been ingrained in the minds of the students. They’ve been in this education system far longer than the time they spent in my class. I’m only there for one semester — a total of five months. And they’ve been through more situations in which they got away with cheating than being actually taught that it is wrong. How can I break that?
I also think that the grading system and the competitive set-up of the classroom have something to do with cheating. The Filipino education system is established on treating grades like a god, as if grades define the worth of a person. Students are pressured to get certain grades that they end up losing sight of what is right to achieve that goal. Cheating is okay, but getting a 5.0 is not. How did this value end up among our students? A co-teacher of mine said that cheating is a culture of the university. But I don’t want to believe it. I refuse to believe it. Besides, culture is supposed to be good. It’s supposed to make the society better and not drag it down. Or am I just being optimistic?
Now I am at lost whether I should really fail them or just give them the lowest passing grade possible. In one part, they are at fault. But in another, it is also our fault — the teachers. We are supposed to guide them to discern right from wrong and if they can’t do that, then there must be something missing — maybe we haven’t done our duty as best as we can. And so, it is also a bit unfair to just fail them like that. But then, it would be another time that they’re getting away with it.