by Ngoc Bich
Unlike in previous years, the Ministry of Education and Training this year allowed students to take cameras and recorders into exam rooms. The decision was considered a move in the fight against exam cheating.
Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education and Training was quoted by local newspapers as saying that the decision was aimed at encouraging students to denounce violators and force supervisors to work more seriously.
The decision was apparently made to prevent a repeat of a situation that happened in last year's exams. In that, a series of video clips revealed students cheating in graduation exams while their supervisors looked on.
When posted on the internet, the pictures, from Doi Ngo Town in northern Bac Giang Province's Luc Nam District, produced a stir in public opinion. In some clips, people could see supervisors take exam results into the exam room for students.
Many teachers complained that they were confused by the change in rules, feeling they would meet difficulties when trying to differentiate transceivers from other recorders and cameras.
Parents disagreed with the ministry's decision, as they expect their children to focus on doing tests to get satisfactorily results, not get involved in doubtful practices.
In fact, most students did not take any device into the test rooms because they were confident they needed no help.
The solution taken by the ministry did not help. In a press meeting on Tuesday to announce results of this year's three-day exams, it said the number of students caught cheating and suspended was 49, 15 more than last year's figure.
Clearly, the decision was just a band-aid measure to mask a sad side of the country's education system that remains to be seriously tackled.
In a publication titled Corruption in Vietnamese Higher Education by Dennis McCornac, an associate professor of economics at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland in the United States, he published an informal survey he made while teaching in Viet Nam.
His research, covering 150 first-year undergraduate students and 100 first-year graduate-level students, indicated that more than 95 per cent had cheated at least once in a class and all had observed situations of cheating by other students.
"Cheating is looked at as being so common that many people involved are of the opinion that not to do so puts them at disadvantage. Both students and faculty also commented that cheating is just part of Vietnamese culture," McCornac said.
Although the survey was carried out between 2005 and 2007, I believe the situation has not changed much because the root of the problem has not been addressed.
Why do so many Vietnamese students cheat? I think it is partly because of unsuitable curricula and education methods. It seems that the purpose of learning is to get enough certificates to compete for work rather than acquire real knowledge.
Students focus too much on learning by heart because the ways educators set questions in the exams seems to test their memories rather than test their absorption of knowledge and ability to use and apply knowledge in real-life situations.
The disease of chasing achievements is downgrading education quality. And schools only pay attention to having as many as graduate students as possible. That's why teachers give exam results to students.
My sister, who is studying overseas, told me that any student caught cheating is banned from taking exams for five years. In my opinion, the Vietnamese education system must have the same regulation.
If our students are to compete on international standards, it is imperative that Viet Nam's education and examination standards are not left floundering in the past. — VNS