Cheating scores highly in India's schools

In this photograph taken on April 17, 2015, an Indian shopkeeper presents a 'spy pen' - a pen with a camera fitted - at a store in New Delhi. Tiny bluetooth earpieces, "spy bras" and hidden camera glasses: these are just some of the high-tech gadgets
In this photograph taken on April 17, 2015, an Indian shopkeeper presents a 'spy pen' - a pen with a camera fitted - at a store in New Delhi. Tiny bluetooth earpieces, "spy bras" and hidden camera glasses: these are just some of the high-tech gadgets available for students in India where cheating on high-pressure exams is rampant. -- PHOTO: AFP 

Focus on grades, pressure to escape poverty trap, corruption among reasons

NEW DELHI - Fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Payali knew she was doing wrong when she scribbled mnemonics on her hands before entering the examination rooms.

But like many other students, the pressure to pass her annual exams was too intense and so she used the memory prompts to cheat. Failure would jeopardise her chances of climbing out of poverty, which had long shackled her family.

"There's too much to memorise and pressure from parents, teachers and even competition with friends," said Payali, 17, who did not want to use her last name.

Using methods ranging from old-fashioned crib sheets to high-tech spy cameras, cheating is common in India, where government schools place an extraordinary emphasis on exams in all grades, according to experts.

Television footage last month showed dozens of relatives scaling a school wall to slip cheat sheets through the windows of exam rooms to give information to students, which staff and police officers ignored. The incident occurred in northern Bihar, one of India's poorest states.

The footage made international headlines, forcing the embarrassed authorities to round up parents and issue them with fines, but education experts said they were not surprised.

Mr Arjun Dev, former head of a government body that plans and promotes schools, said an "endless over-emphasis on memory-testing exams" has stubbed out creativity and logical reasoning. "The system has failed students. It doesn't equip them with necessary qualifications and then overplays the importance of exams, whose certificate is hailed as the ultimate ticket to success," he said. "Until the system changes, cheating will remain a common feature during exams."

With the system stacked against them, many poor families feel compelled to do whatever they can to help their child get a foothold in a better life. This - along with India's all-pervasive culture of corruption - has been largely blamed for the cheating.

For better-off students, cameras hidden in buttons and ties, and pens with Bluetooth technology are available online and in shops.

In January, Indian education research group Pratham published a survey with shocking findings. It found half of 570,000 students surveyed could not read simple sentences or solve simple arithmetic after six years of schooling.

But change may be on the way. Education Minister Smriti Irani has vowed to increase spending on education from nearly 4 to 6 per cent of GDP and pledged a new national policy by December that will link "education to employability".

Mr Anand Kumar, who teaches maths to students from poor families in Bihar, said teachers needed to work harder to help neglected students.

"Also, there needs to be a sense of shame that accompanies cheating - and not just when the person gets caught. It should not be considered the done thing," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE