One of my students unsuccessfully tried to explain to me today why cheating is and should be acceptable in China. She told me that cheating is often the only way to succeed academically in this overpopulated country. She admitted to me that she has tried to cheat multiple times but has always failed because of increased “security.” She was not bashful about telling me, however, that she had often cheated on exams in high school.
The Chinese government in recent years has taken extra measures to prevent cheating. Cell phone blocking devices have been placed in schools to prevent wireless communication and police officers may provide security for important events such as entrance exams. But even these extreme meausures do not stop students from trying to cheat. A teacher who is familiar with the testing system in China told me that sophisticated hand signals and tappings are used to communicate during exams.
Perhaps the reason why cheating continues to be prevalent in China is because of the attitudes of students. Cheating is not necessarily seen in China as a moral issue; it is a matter of survival. Scores on an exam can mean the difference between going to a well known university in a big city or being relegated to a small college in the countryside. And going to a well known university or a small college can mean the difference between working and moving up in a large company or being stuck in mediocre low paying jobs one’s whole life. In other words, cheating could make the difference between a comfortable life and a life full of struggle. When facing that choice, many are willing to make the wrong choice.
I have had the temptation to stand in judgment of these “cheaters.” How can they think that it is ok? But I have successfully fought the urge to lecture them on the pitfalls of cheating because I am somewhat sympathetic to their plight. There is a “survival of the fittest” mentality in this country that puts the issue of cheating into a different light. Hopefully, as China moves into a new era of development and freedom, academic performance can become a matter of pride and not just a tool for survival.