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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 16, April 11, 2015

Examinations and Professional Competence

Sunday 12 April 2015, by Sudhir Vombatkere


Cheating in Examinations

The recent news reports of wholesale cheating in matriculation examinations in Bihar, with pictures of accomplices dangerously climbing the walls of buildings in which examinations were being held, to hand over cheating-aids to candidates, are horrifying. The physical risk taken by the accomplices shows that the cash paid to them—by parents who are okay with cheating, and making arrangements to “help” their wards—is adequate.

The learning capacity and academic capa-bility of the children who pass their matricu-lation examination (or obtain a good grade in the examination for further education) on the basis of cheating is in question. For the rest of their lives, they will carry the burden of knowing that they would have gotten wherever they get to, on the basis of having cheated in examinations. But conscience issues apart, what kind of professional competence will they possess as citizens, and what personal and social values will they convey to their own children when they become parents?

The last question has frequently agitated my mind especially in the present ambience of corruption, crime and disdain for the law. What values are parents conveying by personal example to their progeny? A general deterioration of values in society has resulted in many of our social ills, and cheating in examinations is merely one of the effects.

Examinations of Higher Education

Cheating in examinations is of course neither restricted to matriculation examinations nor to Bihar. It is a general malaise. Cheating provides unfair advantage over another candidate who does not cheat. (A candidate who does not cheat could be principled, or who is afraid of getting caught and punished, or who is afraid of censure at home, or who cannot afford the cash cost of getting “help”.) Anyway, one who cheats or needs to cheat in examinations cannot possess a high level of academic capability.

A person who cheats in a matriculation examination is likely to cheat (or at least attempt to cheat) in examinations for higher education. Few will dispute that cheating in a bachelors degree examination will produce an incompetent clerk, and cheating in a professional examination (medical, engineering, law, teaching, manage-ment, accountancy, etc.) will produce an incom-petent professional. Cheating in post-graduate education only produces incompetent holders of masters or doctoral degrees, who are also hampered in their professions by degraded values, and are likely to encourage and profit from cheating.

It is well known that in some universities, faculty members themselves write “research” theses for doctoral students for monetary consideration, and ensure that the theses pass muster by choosing like-minded examiners. This corruption in education strikes at the very root of our social-educational system. It produces incompetent and corrupt professionals, whether they are doctors, engineers, lawyers, lawyers-promoted-as-judges, teachers at all levels, managers, administrators, police or military officers, etc.

Professional Competence

Gaining admission to a professional course involves spending substantial sums of money, unless the candidate demonstrates academic competence to demand a merit seat. Thus, most students who join professional courses pay large sums of money as capitation fee or donation. (Admission to kindergarten class for a five-year-old involves an admission fee of around Rs 50,000.) The annual fees to be paid over the duration of the professional course is another hurdle that the parent has to handle. Even though capitation fees are banned under the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010, most educational institutions have mastered inspired methods to gather money.

The cash required for up-front payment to admit a ward for a professional degree, leads some parents to borrow money or sell property, but many resort to corruption. And once the ward gets his/her professional degree, there is the motivation to recoup the money spent and make more over and above, by corrupt professional practices.

But reverting to cheating in examinations, students admitted to professional courses may resort to cheating when their learning ability and academic capability, stunted by cheating in earlier examinations, does not match the standards of the syllabus or the examination levels. The cash would have already been paid and the student has no option but to get the degree by any means including cheating in examinations which is “accepted”. Such professionals are doubly incompetent.

Cheating in examinations—at whatever level—is failure of integrity and adversely affects professional competence. The need to cheat also brings into question the methods and standards of teaching, the scope and relevance of the syllabus, and the methods of examination and evaluation. But these are larger issues which must be discussed elsewhere.

Connected Tail-piece

A discussion with friends regarding cheating in professional education revealed opposition to reservations on the basis of caste. A patient’s risk due to professional incompetence of a doctor admitted to medical college on the basis of caste, not merit, was highlighted. The contra-point was: Can one trust the professional competence of a surgeon who entered medical college on payment of capitation fee and perhaps also cheated in examinations? Whatever the profession, the issue concerns professional competence, and admission by merit over reservation. It also extends to whether the capacity to produce huge sums of money for admission and annual fees amounts to reservation.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as Additional DG Discipline and Vigilance in Army HQ AG’s Branch. With over 400 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.

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