Cracking Down on Schoolhouse Cheats

Global China — By on June 23, 2011 7:18 am

By Nimshi Perera
For China In Focus

In an empty classroom on Bejing’s Minzu University campus, three students discussed cheating in college. “I cheated on a quiz in primary school,” said Stacy, a junior, who asked that her Chinese name not be used. “It didn’t make a difference because it wasn’t a serious quiz,” she added.

Stacy is not alone. In 2008 China Youth Daily conducted a survey on 900 college students, 83 percent of whom admitted to cheating on exams. Many Chinese students have cheated often without apparent remorse since they regard their action as necessary to get ahead in China’s highly competitive society. In 2010 Bloomberg Businessweek quoted professor Rao Yi, dean of Peking University’s School of Life Sciences, as saying, “Academic fraud, misconduct and ethical violations are very common in China. It is a big problem.”

This year alone the Chinese government cracked down on cheating by mandating the use of metal detectors, metal wands, devices that shield mobile phone signals, and wireless earphone detectors in schools. School administrators have gone so far as to use radio frequency detectors in an attempt to catch cheating students.

While taking the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE), students are monitored via live camera feed beamed to control rooms set up in close proximity of testing centers. Students in Henan province were banned from bringing watches into testing rooms and erasers and rulers had been thoroughly inspected to ensure they contain no cheating aids or electronic devices.

Despite repeated warnings and increased security, students are still finding ways to bypass the blocks.

Advancing technology enables more and more students to cheat without getting caught. According to a 2008 study done by Wuhan University professor, Shen Yang, Chinese students spent $150 million in the previous year on Internet essays and high-tech subterfuge.

As is perhaps the case in most countries around the world, cheating on exams is part of the historical record.

In China, doctoring tests has been around at least since 206 B.C. In their article, “Chinese University Diploma: Can its International Image be Improved?” Niu Qiang and Martin Wolff provide historical background on cheating’s origins in academia. According to the researchers, from the Han to the Qing dynasties, success in imperial examinations for civil servants meant honor and respect for one’s family. However, the pressure to succeed led many to resort to cheating by employing guan xi, which Qiang and Wolff define as “the art of developing relationships and then using them to obtain unjust or undeserved favors, i.e. cheating as a way of life.”

Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, students take the NCEE, the defining moment in the lives of high school seniors that dictates the rest of their education and career. In regard to the exam, a 2010 New York Times article reported, “[Chinese] families pull out all the stops to optimize their children’s scores,” with cheating becoming “increasingly sophisticated [...] 2,645 cheaters were caught last year [during the NCEE period].”

This June, 9.33 million Chinese high school seniors took the NCEE—a two-day college entrance exam—to determine their rank and which universities they could attend. Prior to the exam, the Ministry of Education reported that only 73 percent of students were expected to have high enough scores to enroll in universities.

On June 3, Xinhua News reported the Chinese education authority would focus “efforts this year on cracking down on wireless communication devices, as well as use of the Internet and mobile phones during the NCEE.” China’s Ministry of Education reported that 62 students have been detained and the Chinese police have solved a total of 45 cheating-related cases.

In 2008, Wang Xuming, Education Ministry spokesperson was quoted in China Daily saying, “Students have adopted innovative ways to cheat, and authorities want to discourage it with tough penalties.” Despite, government efforts, fewer cheaters are getting caught. According to the Ministry of Education in 2010 only one out of every 5,000 students were caught cheating.

Back in the classroom at Minzu University, George, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the history of imperial examinations during the Sui Dynasty were “test takers would write answers in their clothes and in their hair.” He said cheating has truly advanced due to the use of “cell phones, wireless earpieces as small as a pea, and fake identification cards.”

As for Stacy, “scores are important for students to find a good job and those who do not want to work hard to get a good score will cheat.” She said it starts in primary school and becomes prevalent in college. “Students in primary school who did not prepare for an exam may be too nervous of getting caught, but as they get older, bad students will be braver and cheat on exams and in university cheating on exams is everywhere,” she said.

Elena, an English junior, spoke of the second pressure facing children today. “Parents want to see their children succeed and will help them at any cost,” she said.

On Jan. 8, the Wall Street Journal ran an online excerpt from Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, in which Chua wrote about the pressure Chinese mothers put on their children to succeed as well as examples of her own parenting. She wrote, “Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners.”

Three years ago, after Elena took her examination, her mother told her what she saw outside the testing center. Elena told the group, “my mom said while waiting for their children outside the testing center, parents help their children cheat. They hire people to answer the test questions and send the answers to their children by way of nearly invisible earpieces.”

This year the Ministry of Education reported, those detained for cheating were selling cheating materials including wireless headphones, two-way radios and other electronic devices.

These advancing methods may explain why the numbers are so low, but experts still agree that cheating is a problem. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, based on this year’s Zinch Report, Tom Melcher, chairman of Zinch China, a consulting company that advises American colleges and universities about mainland China, pointed out, “It’s the parents who are pushing their [children] to cut corners… cheating is really pervasive in China.”

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