AUSTRALIA. Geoff Maslen reports on an alarming rise in dishonesty in examinations. Pupils are taking advantage of technology to cheat in exams, according to a new book which says severe penalties are needed to stop them using props such as radio transmitters in pen tops and pre-programmed calculators.
Cheating in Australia's private schools has been blamed on the pressure parents put on their children. In a survey of 700 secondary students most said their parents had too high expectations.
More than 70 per cent of the students questioned admitted to cheating at least once, but serious cheating such as taking the place of another student in an exam was rare. Calculators that can be programmed to provide formulas on demand are now common. Students are also using concealed radio transmitters with cordless earpieces for receiving answers, pagers that can receive information broadcast from outside the exam room, and mobile phones in toilets to call for help.
Conducted by researchers at Edith Cowan University in Perth, the survey covered independent and religious schools in an unnamed state. The researchers say that opportunities for students to cheat have increased significantly because of teachers' growing reliance on school-assessed work.
Although other studies have indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent of secondary students cheat, few surveys have been carried out in highly conservative independent or religious schools. The Perth findings show that where students go to school appears to make little difference to their tendency to cheat.
The survey found the most frequent forms of cheating were copying material from a book, changing answers on a self-scored test, and copying another students' work.
The students surveyed supported the introduction of penalties as a way of discouraging further cheating. However, they did not believe signing pledges or being "put on their honour" would help.
In a new book, called Exam Scams, John Croucher, an associate professor of statistics at Macquarie University, says it is time teachers and university academics faced up to the fact that cheating is an endemic social problem.
Professor Croucher suspects fewer than two in 100 young cheats are ever caught because most are very competent.
While vigilance is the price of maintaining student integrity during an exam, the professor says supervisors must also be aware of the latest cheating techniques.
Professor Croucher says that last year in Bangladesh, a teacher was hacked to death after trying to stop cheating in the nationwide secondary school exams.
In the first week of the tests, 4,000 students were expelled for cheating and 50 teachers sacked for supplying notes to students. One official said exam fraud had become a national vice.