Sunday, 10 June 2012

Cheating Is Normal In Saudi

Cheating is normal in Saudi Arabia.  I'm talking about cheating on university or college exams.  (Men cheating on their wives is another story though also very common.) 

It's the end of term in Riyadh and teachers who aren't staying over for summer school are heading out to destinations with good wine and cold beer - well, the teachers I know are.  Whilst chillaxin they will no doubt tell the truck load of stories they have gathered over the previous term, some of which I get to hear before they wave goodbye at the airport, many of them having something to do with the recent round of cheating on exams.

I'm guessing every school in every in country has those who will cheat but Saudi, as in all things, has its own spin on the activity. Here's a normal cheating story told to me recently by our pool:

After the exams have been marked and the marks given to the students, one student calls in on the teacher.
You only gave me 45 out of 46.
You should have given me 46.
Because you gave my friend 46 and I copied off  him.

The teacher comtemplates his response then says
Perhaps you copied something wrong.

It turns out he did copy something wrong, hence the loss of a mark but unconcerned that he has admitted to cheating the student then asks the teacher,
Can you give me the 46 anyway so I can show my parents how hard I've been working in class.

The kids, by all accounts, know the western teachers aren't happy about the note passing, the texting (if they happen to sneak in phones) or the blatant copying but as one friend says reporting them is oft times pointless as the heirarchy of the school will usually cave in to a storming relative blaming the school for the childs poor results so the kids get away with it anyway. 

And besides, I get the feeling most Saudi students don't really consider turning round to look at the answers of their fellow exam takers as cheating. It's getting help. It's ensuring a good mark no matter what and if caught asking the bro in the chair next door for answers there is usually a weak excuse accompanied by a mischievious twinkle in the eye.

I sometimes wonder if perhaps teachers in Saudi should change their views on students giving themselves success advantages and schools should develop a system that embraces the culturally influenced practice of students helping each other out with test answers. Whose to say the western method of examinations is the best way?

The Ministry of Education has made no secret that it intends to improve education in Saudi and they build nice schools and develop relationships with some of the best education organisations in the world, but Ministry efforts mean sqaut diddly when the attitude of the student masses to being educated is somewhat different from the western model.

Ask any teacher and they will tell you that the majority of Saudi, male and female, consider school and university more of a social outing than education.

Attending school is also a fabulous venue for sussing out suitable potential marriage material for your brothers/sisters/cousins as the ever decreasing gene pool from families inter-marrying is becoming a bit of a concern.

Saudization, the latest move to employ Saudi's, is not yet helping education. Saudi teachers, I've heard, tend to teach as they were once taught.  Mostly by rote learning. Mostly without appreciating a questioning mind.   That is not really promoting learning.  Perhaps as well as building schools the Ministry could look at teaching local teachers how to teach, how to encourage and support learning, how to embrace and inquiring mind.

The students themselves have an uphill battle - I have no idea why all university subjects are currently taught in English. If you have not spent a lot of time exposed to English, being expected to pass your diploma or degree in it after a few months of Preparatory Year study is asking a bit much.  This, I gather, is a large contributing factor to why students at Uni cheat.

The pressure to look successful
 + a language they are unfamiliar with
 =  find someone else to do this for me

Last years decision to introduce English language into public schools at an earlier grade as this story in Gulf News outlines, might help tackle the language problem, though I have to wonder if that is the right answer. 

However, the expectation is that you will pass a course delivered in English and expectations in Saudi must be met by any means possible.  Cheating in that case is not a problem.  Cheating (or borrowing someone else's answer with his/her complete approval) is a means to an end. 

The western trained expat teachers I know that work here want to teach. They want students with inquiring minds. They want students to love learning. When a gem of a student is come across 'oh', says one of my friends, 'it is so refreshing'. And there are gems. And they are so different to the norm you cannot help but wonder, 'How the hell did that happen?'

But gems are rare when the progressive part of the Ministry has to answer to the conservative half who find inquiring minds just a lot too threatening. Gems are like needles in the haystack of students subjected to years of rote learning and discouragement of anything remotely inquiring.   And then, of course, there is the culture of having no clue what it means to give 100% effort.

The majority of students here could be bright enough to pass if they tried - they just find trying is quite, well.., hard.   Is this their fault?   Not if this story is as common as we're told.  Cheating habits start, it seems, in nursery school.

Nursery teachers tell us about parents who demand their toddler be given more stars than the other kids. WTF! Their request has little to do with the child learning the ABC's and more to do with not losing face by having a 'non-succeeding' child. Not losing face is big in KSA.  Lying, cheating and bribing are top of the list of accepted behaviors to prevent such loss of face. 

Yep, reward for honest effort in education starts taking a dive at a very young age in Saudi. If the Ministry could nip that bud maybe cheating would not be the norm in KSA.

Ka Kite,

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