Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Culture of Cheating

In China, primary school and high school are difficult and college is a breeze. Ridiculously easy. Nobody is forced to think or do anything and everybody cheats.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Three professors at a leading Chinese university – including one of the country's top experts in traditional medicine – have lost their jobs in a new plagiarism scandal. And the government finally seems to have been jolted into tackling the academic dishonesty that plagues many faculties here.

Experts are not holding their breath, though. In a culture where knockoffs are normal, from sportswear to DVDs, it will not be easy to expunge deep-rooted academic habits, they warn. But some say hope may lie with a new generation of internationally trained teachers.

The latest fraud to rock Chinese academia centers on He Haibo, an associate professor of pharmacology at the prestigious Zhejiang University. He now admits to copying or making up material he submitted in eight papers to international journals and has been fired, along with the head of his research institute.

The affair has drawn particular attention because a world-renowned expert in traditional Chinese medicine, Li Lianda, lent his name as coauthor to one of the fraudulent papers. His tenure will not be renewed when his contract expires soon, the president of Zhejiang University has said.

"This biggest-ever academic scandal is for sure a wakeup call that the Chinese universities are facing a crisis of credibility," editorialized the state-run "China Daily."

Read On
When I first came to China, I taught an adult class at the English training school I worked at. The class was a higher lever discussion class. Most of the students were university students. They all were very eager to practice English and take part in discussions.

Every class, I assigned the students "homework." I'd ask them to write about whatever topic we'd discussed that class period. It was not required, but if they wanted a foreigner to look at and correct their writing, I'd do it. Most of the students took advantage of the opportunity and wrote a few hundred words a class to turn into me.

Despite most of the students very good oral English, most of their written English was pretty poor. Tons of grammatical mistakes and poor language usage.

There was one student who wrote nearly perfect English though. Every class, I was more and more impressed with what he was writing. I'd write comments like, "Have you ever considered writing for an English publication? Your writing is incredible!"

Then one day the work that he turned into me had nothing to do with the topic that I'd assigned. This was very strange. And then the next class, he did the same thing again.

At that time, I put two and two together and realized that this kid, whose writing was perfect yet who didn't speak in class, had not been able to find any articles about what I'd assigned on the internet and had just copied some article that he thought I'd be impressed by.

On the second essay, I wrote comments something to the effect of:
"Bruce, you are going to an English training school. Your grades here don't matter. Why are you wasting your time copying things off the internet to hand in to me? The whole point of these writing assignments is to improve yourself, not impress me."
After class, he came up to me and apologized for plagiarizing the works. He didn't really have a good explanation, just told me he was sorry.

I believe this example highlights just how rampant and ingrained cheating are to Chinese university students. This kid was paying a few hundred kuai a month so he could come to my English discussion class. The class had no bearing on his future other than hopefully improving his English fluency and possibly his writing skills. The certificate he received at the end of my course is not even worth the paper upon which it was printed.

Yet when I asked him to think and write about his feelings on whatever topic we'd discussed that class, he couldn't do it and simply copied others' work off of the internet.

My friend Richard, on his blog, has discussed the Chinese education system at great lengths. His post on "No why situations" is a particularly enlightening about Chinese students and their inability to think.

As the article I linked up to above goes on to say, Chinese universities are in a serious legitimacy crisis. Some of the quotes from the article are downright comical (or sad, I suppose):
"There is a long tradition of plagiarism in Chinese universities," Stearns wrote in an e-mail last week. "Some Chinese professors actually teach their students to plagiarize."


"Corruption and fraud are very common in China and academic corruption and fraud just reflect the social situation," he says.


Stearns says that he and his colleagues at Yale "do not believe letters of recommendation from Chinese professors, for we know that many of them are written by the students themselves," and merely signed by their teachers.
I'm so grateful that I grew up in America's education system as opposed to China's.

When I was young, I had the chance to be a kid and enjoy life. Chinese kids are given no such chance. When I was in college, I was given the opportunity to study something I loved (major in philosophy) and expand my mind in unbelievable ways. Chinese college students' minds stagnate after having spent their whole lives cramming for tests.

And I haven't even gotten into the social lives of China's college students. Instead of going out to bars and having unadulterated fun like western kids, they go to net bars and play Counterstrike or internet games with their friends. Their universities lock their gates at 11:00PM and the lights (and electricity) are cut off around that time too.

So yeah, in addition to not learning anything, Chinese college students don't even get to have fun or experimentation when they finally get to leave Mom and Dad's apartment.

I feel sorry for Chinese students.


Matthew said...

I spent plenty of time looking online for plagiarism from students. Failed a large number of them on their assignments...and those were only the ones I could catch in 5 minutes or less. I'm sure there were more who just changed a few words of the original articles.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to Richard's "没有为什么." Very interesting topic.

It mirrors my some of my frustrations even with some of the older Chinese students moved to the states. Whereas I can have rather engaging philosophical conversations with at least some of my Western friends (much more so politically) or even just basic thinking about knowledge in other areas outside your own, I tend to hit that roadblock with them. They literally say, 'why do you think about such things?' My answer is that I find it an important, rewarding part of life. It's all about the why.

Mark said...

The "No why situation" Richard describes and that you have seen first hand, Taylor, is the direct result of having an education system COMPLETELY based on students passing tests.

There is absolutely no cultivation of ideas in China's schools. It is just memorizing facts so that multiple choice answers can be chosen on tests.

It's very sad.

When someone is asked to think or (gasp) write a paper, they have no idea what to do.

I am not too clear on the exact details of "No Child Left Behind." But the reputation it has is that it too has pushed America into a more standardized test kind of education system.

That's a shame if it is in fact true.

The only possible result from such a crappy education system is that America will lose the creativity which has made it a great place since its inception.

I'm too "all about the why." So much so that I decided to gamble my future and get my bachelor's degree in philosophy!

Tackling "why" questions is the essence of being a human, in my opinion.

K said...

I feel you on the 'no fun and experimentation' among most chinese students. I would add that some people I know go to various venues that offer "通宵" and drink until they pass out there. Then, when they return to their dorms after 7am, everything is open and it's time for bed.

Anonymous said...

Chinese cheating in us schools is rampant. Old exams,solution manuals, networks where homework is copied. Blatant copying and talking during exams...