Cheating in Georgian Schools

Posted on July 28, 2011 by

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I think it’s safe to say that everyone who has come to teach in a Georgian school has encountered cheating. Many of us have little teaching experience outside Georgia, however, as so we may not know how prominent cheating is in, for example, the US. Even if we do know how much cheating goes on in American schools, I think the main difference that we notice is in the attitude towards cheating. In the US cheating usually isn’t done openly or brazenly, even if it is often done very stupidly. Teachers in the US would generally claim that their students don’t cheat or that they punish cheaters very severely. Teachers in Georgia, on the other hand, often seem to be on board with their students’ cheating – that is, they are well aware of it but do not appear to ever discipline the students or take corrective action. When asked they say that they are powerless to stop it and when pressed will usually blame the Soviet mentality.

This attitude is baffling to a lot of TLG volunteers. Teachers should control what goes on in their classrooms, and students who cheat should receive failing grades and should not be promoted to the next class. Students who cheat don’t learn, and students who don’t learn, when they go into the real world, will be unable to succeed. So really by failing to stop cheating we’re doing our students a great disservice.

We’ve been told by a number of sources that the reason why cheating is allowed is that it provides documentation to support the rampant grade inflation that happens in Georgian schools. Georgian teachers and schools are evaluated, to some extent, by how the students do – and it’s easier to make it appear as if the students are doing well by handing out undeserved high grades than it is to actually educate anyone. The Ministry has told us that one of our jobs in Georgian public schools is to help combat this kind of attitude.

I recently came across an article about an American college professor who attempted to combat cheating and was so discouraged by the results that he has vowed never to do so again. His argument was that it takes up a great deal of time, it poisons the relationship between the student and the teacher, it ruins the classroom environment, it doesn’t actually stop cheating, and it ends up making the teacher look like he’s doing a bad job.

That got me to thinking. In one of my seventh grade classes last semester, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to curtail cheating, and all it did was make enemies with the students. Their behavior got progressively worse after the first test in which they were not allowed to cheat, and a few of the boys took to acting out against me personally. Going to that class became a miserable chore for me. Once a student threw a pencil and hit me in the face. Once a student threw water on me. Needless to say these activities took up the attention of the whole class, not to mention making my job harder and worse.

In my eleventh grade classes, the tests consisted of 40 multiple choice questions and a 10 point essay. Students who did not write the essay at all could still get a passing grade, so many students simply copied the answers to the multiple choice questions from the one or two people in the class who actually knew English, wrote no essay, and passed the class – all without having to learn a single word of English.

So what is there to be done about cheating? I agree with the professor in the article – it’s better to try to construct cheating-proof assignments than to actually try to catch and punish cheaters, with all the sturm und drang that such an enterprise entails. It’s obvious that for the eleventh graders, writing in-class essays were relatively cheat-proof, provided that a teacher pays the tiniest bit of attention.

Unfortunately, essays pave the way for the kind of subjectivity that allows teachers to just pass all the students anyway, which suggests that the students’ cheating is just a manifestation of a deeper problem – a culture of not caring about academic integrity in Georgian public schools – but at least essays would theoretically motivate students to study better by taking away the security blanket of being able to just copy answers off their friends.

Have any of you ever had to deal with a massive cheating epidemic? Any thoughts or suggestions?

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