x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Exam cheats may be 'cool', but who'll give them a job?

It's midsummer. The family's latest high-school crop shared their exam experiences as we assembled for our weekly dinner.

It's midsummer. The family's latest high-school crop shared their exam experiences as we assembled for our weekly dinner. As we heard their stories we were transported to a time when we each had a tale to tell or a tale to remember. Not much has changed over the years. The stories were all funny, and the storytellers went into great detail, interrupted occasionally by by bursts of irrepressible laughter, when describing the foibles of fellow students. Yes, it's always about someone else; the audience, after all, is made up of random relatives and family friends.

@body arnhem:The other recurring theme was how easily some students got away with cheating in finals. Heroics abound. Some students used classic cheat-sheets. Others brought two mobile phones so they would still have one as they indignantly surrendered the first. In one classroom alone, teachers confiscated seven phones. Yet, students cheated. I remember my time at high-school final exams. Most teachers were particularly stern looking at exam time. To add to the sense of drama and formality, we even had teachers we didn't know looking over our shoulders. It usually took no more than one look to stop any of us from even contemplating "sharing" knowledge. But I distinctly remember one teacher who had absolutely no control over our class, and was famous for setting his chair on top of his desk to secure an aerial panoramic view over us. Yet many still managed to cheat in his class.

Then I went to college. Many of my exams were in multiple-choice format, and our answers were limited to the letters a, b, c, d. You might think it would be easy to signal the correct answers to friends - but it does not take a lot to have two or three versions of the same exam with questions listed in a different order. There was also the honour system. Remember the honour system? It's simple. A teacher declares that he trusts everyone not to cheat, then sits back and reads a newspaper for the duration of the exam. If he finds someone cheating, however, that person is out of school - no discussion, no excuses no exceptions. It is a much cheaper system, and of greater educational value, than the robotic eyes, or cameras, that I have seen installed in some private schools exam halls.

I have also seen the honour system at work in some societies in their public transport. Most people paid their train fares. I find it inexcusable that we let our young people get away with cheating. I also find it strange - given the abundant body of evidence and witnesses happy to talk - that no one is expelled from school, or at least no reports of dismissals are made public to set an example or create a deterrent.

As a parent I look for the honour system, but I can't find enough examples in schools. I try to instil it at home, as every parent should: the lesson is that cheating or beating the system should never be seen as "cool". In school, a team captain can pull his best friend into the tennis team, but he can't win his matches for him. Maybe you can cheat your way into college, but you'll never make it to medical school with cheat-sheets. And if you were to "buy" a degree, an interview will see through you and deny you that glamorous job. Finally, if a well-placed uncle finds you a job with a friendly banker, that's as far as you'll get - no amount of wasta is going to make you the head of corporate banking.

Looking back again at my own school, my class was very small, so when I refer to someone as Big Cheater 1, that's the closest I can get to using examples. Big Cheater 1 was very popular from his daring attempts at cheating and generally at trouble-making. Predictably, he has not achieved much in his life. He has a drinking problem and no job. Big Cheater 2 is trapped in a stagnant job, makes a modest amount of money, and again has few achievements to talk about. All that these guys can ever offer society is a few entertaining stories at dinner time… once a year, each midsummer.

Anees Sultan is a writer and businessman based in Oman