Honesty in the Classroom?

British students are among the least likely to cheat in exams, claims Dr Ron McLone, Chief Executive of the Cambridge, Oxford and RSA Examination Boards. "From evidence gathered from other parts of the world, I think we can safely say that we are on top of the league." said Dr McLone.

In comparison, he cites the US and Australia as having a less-scrupulous attitude among exam takers. And Dr McLone singled out Poland as one of the countries where students cheat most in the classroom. He also claimed that Poland has the most inventive cheats. "One case involved a student bringing a lucky toy mascot into the examination room. The harmless toy turned out, when examined, to be a disguised radio receiver!"

Polish students, then, do not have a good international reputation, in this regard. An informal study in the Zamosc region, carried out by English teachers there in the late 1990s, confirms this view. It found that 93.3% of students admitted to cheating at some time during the previous academic year. Cheating, it seems, is endemic in Polish educational establishments.

But Dr McLone should not be so smug about British students not cheating at school. Allegations of cheating in the UK during national examinations rose sharply last year, from 270 cases in 2000/2001, to 480 in 2001/2002. This figure covers children in Britain aged between 11-14, who must take standardized tests at those ages to assess their educational progress and development.

Dr McLone was also accused of cheating himself, recently. The education watchdog in the UK, the QCA, asked him to explain his involvement in what the newspapers called the 'A' level Grade Scandal. Students in Britain have been passing this exam in increasing numbers recently. Each year, the scores are better than the last. This has led many to complain that A-levels are becoming too easy. The examination board that McLone is chief of was accused of adjusting the results of 'A' level scores downwards - to make it appear that the exams are getting harder, not easier. Britain's chief examiner did admit, however, that he had made changes to figures. And that's cheating.

So, maybe those who throw stones should not work in glass educational establishments?

Not just Poland

According to our investigation, cheating at school is a worldwide phenomenon, and, what is even more disturbing: the problem appears to be growing. Cheating and plagiarism are getting easier due to the advent and growth of the Internet, where tailor-made essays can be downloaded from websites at minimal financial cost.

A survey in 2001 by the University of Canberra, Australia, found that 81% of students admitted that they had plagiarized at some point during their studies. The study reported that male students were far more likely to cheat than females. "People just don't feel the same moral pressure to do the right thing anymore," complained Professor Paul Rizzo, Dean of the Melbourne Business School. "It's a case of, if you can get away with it, then it is OK. Academic institutions have always prized intellectual freedom but this freedom presumes a level of trustworthiness, which at times, is sadly lacking today."

Vox pop

We have asked English teachers from many different countries, along with Polish students of English, to give their experiences and thoughts about cheating. While educational cheating seems to be global, we learn what makes Poland a special case is that, in this country, cheating is socially and educationally acceptable. If you are caught cheating during exams in Canada, the UK, US, or even the Sudan, then you are in big trouble. But in Poland, you can get away with it without even a telling off.

But does this matter? Some argue that it does not: cheating at school is harmless, it's part of the Polish culture, and a necessity due to the colossal amount of information that the Polish student must learn to get through school successfully. But others argue that cheating at school today can turn into corruption in business and politics tomorrow.

What do you think? Have you cheated at school or college? Why? Do you know people who habitually do this? Do you think this subject is important, or are all the foreign teachers that come to Poland and make a fuss about cheating, getting worked up about nothing? Please send us your opinions on this important issue by e-mail to woe@woe.edu.pl, or pop a letter in the post and address it to: The World of English, ul. Dzielna 6/8, 00-162 Warszawa.

But first, read what our correspondents have to say about cheating in Poland and abroad. [GO ยป]

Peter Gentle