October 19, 2003
Thoughts on internet cheating

The Libertarian Alliance Forum has a piece on it from the Daily Telegraph of October 11th (just over a week ago) which doesn't seem to be at their website in any form, and was presumably therefore only on paper. The spacing and spelling of the text certainly says scanner rather than copy and paste. Here is all of the text we got. Presumably this is all of it, but I can't say for sure:

Pupils using internet material as their own

Exam boards have criticised teachers who let pupils present material from the internet as their own.

Examiners at two of the three boards in England say some teachers are providing their students with too much help or failing to spot copying.

Teachers mark GCSE coursework which is then "moderated" by boards which look at sample work from different grades.

They are required to sign that material submitted by pupils is their original work, but a report by Edexcel, one of the boards, found the rules were being breached.

Some teachers failed to sign authentication statements or submitted photocopied signatures. "In some cases, teachers signed [?scanning?] authentication statements for some candidates, when a cursory glance indicated collusion," said a report on the GNVQ in information and communication technology.


First, this was why exams of the old-fashioned sort – with a kids imprisoned in a big exam hall for three hours with nothing but a desk, an exam paper, blank paper to write on, a pencil or pen, and a suspicious and embittered old-fashioned schoolteacher prowling around looking for rule-infractions – were invented in the first place. Not only can pupils not cheat. Neither can their teachers.

Second, teachers are now cheating, because that's the way more and more of the incentives are fixed. If your school income more and more depends (as it does) on how well your school scores in various "outcomes", then your school is extremely liable to fiddle these outcomes. The key fact is that London-based education bureaucrats are more and more "finding out" how well education is being done by saying to those doing the educating: "How well are you doing it?" Lie and you get your money. Tell the truth, and you don't get so much. This is the day-to-day reality of all those "initiatives". The School Inspectorate can't keep up.

Third, the cheating goes right to the top. There is a steady trickle of headmasters getting done for this kind of thing, and the ultimate cheat, claiming that the system is doing better than it really is, is the Secretary of Education himself, and above and beyond him, the Prime Minister.

After all, why have they switched to "continuous assessment"? More precisely, why might they now be reluctant to switch back to an assessment regime based more than now on old-fashioned exams? Because the news might, for the system as a whole, be unwelcome, is why.

This is why I have a category here called "Sovietisation". In the old USSR you just could not trust the numbers. And that's the way British education is headed.

However, fourth: the Internet now makes the administration of exams, however old-fashioned, harder. Any leaking of the contents of next week's exam by anyone anywhere becomes common knowledge to everyone everywhere. That makes the exam business a lot harder.

However, fifth: it goes deeper even than that. The internet make old-fashioned education itself a lot harder to do, because old-fashioned education is built around the fact of information scarcety. Old-fashioned education is, you might say, a solution to a problem that no longer exists.

Amen. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:56 AM
Category: SovietisationThe internet