Copying in examination- Just another shortcut
What differentiates cognitive functioning of the present youth from their counterparts decades back is their increasing dependence on mental shortcuts. There is a fundamental drive for shortcuts in all realms of modern life.
Proliferation of electronic gadgets – thanks to the technological revolution – has redefined the fundamental cognitive functioning of the human brain in such a way that consumption of cognitive energy for seemingly complex tasks has been transferred to the domain of machine world. The brain in leisure, left with much free space for ruminating, devises more and more means for mental shortcuts. Shortcuts beget desire for more shortcuts. Yes, it is like an addiction.
Two ways of burning brain energy
According to scientific studies, of all organs brain consumes greatest amount of energy and activities in the brain drain 20% of human body’s total haul. On analyzing, one has to concede that burning of brain energy too follows the pleasure principle put forward by the 19th century psychologist, Sigmund Freud. Burning of cognitive energy (effort) if associated with pleasure, the accompanying feeling of being ‘drained out’ or ‘lethargic’ is also pleasing and the person indulges in it repeatedly. Mobile games are typical ways for spending cognitive energy in this way. But burning of energy for mastering a task by persevering and persisting in it, if dependent largely on the will power or grit of the individual, the accompanying lethargy or the feeling of being ‘drained’ cannot be enjoyed much and the task itself can pose as a negative reinforcer. Learning of several new skills, at least in the beginning, resembles this kind of burning of cognitive energy.
This produces two types of individuals. The first type avoids or escapes from insipid way of expending cognitive energy. While the second type count on the positive outcomes of persisting in comparatively unpleasant ways of cognitive burning. The former group, pursuing hedonistic impulses finds asylum in their comfort zones comprising, perhaps, laziness, sloth, inertia, etc. Such people are highly susceptible to easily available mental shortcuts to execute most of their cognitive tasks. The second type of individuals never succumb to the machine world but learn to utilize technology to expand their innate potential. Their persevering nature does not allow machines to dictate their lives.
Addiction to shortcuts – a learned habit
Preference for shortcuts to meet important as well as unimportant demands of everyday life has been very much ingrained in the lives of people today. Whether this culture of shortcuts can hurt people’s capacity for perseverance or hard work or sustained effort in the face of difficulties is the question.
Acquaintance with shortcuts begins in the home. Life flows on pre-determined templates of shortcuts provided by electronic equipment. From the kitchen to bath room, home seems to be a gallery for shortcut living. Doing something manually is an affair of an unknown era and the new generation lives on instrumentally designed recipes for a range of activities literally from cooking to sleeping. Intimacy involved in face-to-face communication becomes a casualty when gadgets determine the time, mode and outcomes in connecting with one’s intimate kith and kin. Ethical and humane values in which relationships are imbedded, have been redefined. A like in the face book is a shortcut not only to express one’s likeness but to cut short one’s habitual ways of communicating the ‘liking’. In the absence of face book or whatsapp, we have to set out to articulate our ‘liking’ either by writing/communicating in detail or by face to face meeting. Now, face to face meeting has been cut down to face book click. Brevity rules the roost. Muscles of the brain breathe in and breathe out only through shortcuts.
School mimics shortcut culture
‘It is my Math teacher who initiated me to my never ending love for shortcuts in learning by teaching shortcut methods of solving problems’, quipped my colleague while discussing the shortcut mania of our students.
Students’ ‘homemade’ preferences for shortcuts get strengthened by many teaching methods. Many teachers join the bandwagon of utility oriented educators who practice examination oriented shortcut methods of teaching and learning. ‘End result justifies means’ is the watch word of commercialized culture invading the scenario of present education system.
Examination oriented teaching deprives the student of the cognitive burden of imagining, researching and indulging in deliberate rumination of the concepts to be learned. On the other hand, it promotes and motivates rote learning. Learning by rote or learning intended merely to regurgitate into answer sheets what one has mugged up, undermines the basic fundamental principles of learning – integrating the new information to the already existing framework of knowledge in the learner’s brain. Learning pruned to fit into ‘what is needed only for examination’ cuts down the possibilities for right registering of the learned material. Act of retrieval of the learned material will be flexible only if the registration of new information is done on the secure foundation of prior knowledge. A student who has developed a habit of learning just before the examination has a flaky foundation of prior knowledge. His ability to retain and retrieve information will fail to meet the standards of satisfactory performance.
Crash courses crush the confidence
Crash courses, a byproduct of shortcut culture, undermine the basic guiding principles of the process of learning. It is a futile exercise if the student has not undergone systematic learning before entering crash courses. Scientifically proved research evidence related to fundamental basic principles upon which cognitive faculties of individuals operate corroborates this claim.
For a student who has not passed through the authentic sequence of learning process and who has not assimilated the qualities like regularity, disciplined learning, perseverance and grit required for it, burning of cognitive energy for learning is an insipid and boring job. Crash courses crush the confidence of such students. Standing on the threshold of board exams, the template of shortcuts provided by various teaching agents evades his underdeveloped learning skills or capabilities. Sudden surge of motivation for learning just to qualify an important exam and a slew of shortcuts supplied for the same need not commensurate well with his intellectual disposition. So the next best choice, for him to qualify in the examination, though declared as illicit, is a shortcut called copying.
Copying — just one of the many shortcuts
For the youth of new generation copying is just another shortcut and no more an act inherent with ignominy and disrespect. It will not be an exaggeration if one says that the prevailing culture of shortcuts has mellowed down the air of indignity surrounding the act of copying. Ever mounting incidents of exam scams and copying in the examinations is indicative of this.
Learning, basically aimed to expand one’s boundaries, does not allow any space for short cuts. It can be pursued only with willingness for perseverance and meticulousness. For the student who has failed to discover the joy of learning, the very act of learning is a punishment in disguise. When learning is just mugging up things, copying is just a shortcut to victory. Perhaps no formal training will be available in the skill of copying. But that day is not far when everybody will reticently approve copying with just a word of caution that ‘one must not be caught red handed’.
Combating copying in examination
As in any illegal act, it is a fact that, in copying some fall prey to some vigilant eyes but others escape due to their flair for obscurantism or due to the absence of vigilance in the eyes of invigilator. China combats this culture of shortcuts invading the examination system as the tendency of the students to copy, with more efficient shortcut methods for invigilation. They replaced invigilators in the examination halls by sophisticated cameras which surpass ordinary perceptual faculties of human vision and record each and every movement of more than 20000 examinees at a time from different angles. The process of evaluating the examination paper is complemented with verification and assessment of how a student behaved at the exam venue.
In India if students are not willing to comply with the demands of being honest in the examination hall, teachers should be ready to be honest to themselves as invigilators. Interpretation of act of copying must be two pronged. Not only the dishonesty of the student but the slackness of the invigilator also must be probed while dealing with issues of copying in examinations. If somebody else, say the evaluators of answer sheets, comes out with evidence of copying, the invigilator must be bound to explain the cause.
Copying is illegal you may inform your students. ‘Copying is immoral’ is a statement received with increasing amount of complacency and leniency by the students who have missed the sacred purpose behind the process of acquiring knowledge. Sophisticated technological facilities can ensure impeccable error free examination system. But new ways have to be devised to combat students’ increasing tendency to cut short the path to victory. An overhaul in the examination system to make it error free will be effective only if it is preceded by necessary reforms in teaching and learning practices. Factors that encourage the students to evade the path of hard work in learning must be probed into. What kills the joy of learning is the fundamental query to be addressed. Inculcating a passion for learning should be the aim of all teaching processes because one who loves learning will never succumb to the temptations for shortcuts or copying.
Jeny Raphael is a higher secondary school teacher working in Kerala, India. She has 16 years experience in the field of teaching. She has published more than 15 research papers in various national, international journals. At present she is doing research in adolescent psychology in the Bharathiar University, Coimbatore.