This assembly considers attitudes to cheating in the light of the news that more pupils are using new ‘technological’ methods in order to cheat in examinations. It considers the pressures that may drive us to cheat and asks questions about the role of conscience

Resources: A Leader and two Readers – playing the part of ‘Cheat’ and ‘Anti-cheat’.

Props: A mobile phone, a ball-point pen an old exam paper.

Engagement

Leader: Today’s topic is a tricky one: cheating in exams. Let’s begin with a short drama. We are outside the examination hall.

Reader 1: Come forward please [Reader 2 does so] Place your mobile phone on this table.

[Reader 1 does so]

Reader 1: Remove all pens and pencils.

Reader 2: What for? I’m going to need this pen.

Reader 1: You will find your special examination pen lying on the desk along with the question paper.

Reader 2: But this is my lucky pen. I always use it for exams. I’ll be lost without it.

Reader 1: In future, special examination pens are to be used in case electronic cheating devices are concealed in students’ writing equipment.

Reader 2: Your stop-the-cheats policy is way over the top. How do you know I’m not a robot with an amazing brain, sitting the exam for somebody else?

Reader 1: Cheating robots will be detected and eliminated by new scanning equipment at the entrance to the examination hall. Move forward!

[Reader 2 shakes his/her head and moves on]

Reflection

Leader: So far we haven’t heard of robots being sent in to sit exams. But it seems that cases of cheating have increased. Here are the headlines:

Reader 2: Rising numbers of pupils are being caught cheating by smuggling mobile phones, BlackBerrys and iPods into exam halls… [There has been] a six percent increase in 12 months.’

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7139336/More-pupils-cheating-in-exams-says-Ofqual.html)

Leader: There’s nothing original about trying to cheat in exams, but modern technology brings new ways to beat the system. So today we are going to discuss the problem of cheating.

Reader 1 will play the part of Cheat and Reader 2 of Anti-Cheat. Let’s begin. Is there ever any excuse for cheating in exams? Let’s hear it from the Cheats.

Reader 1: A school exam isn’t part of real life, so having the answers up your sleeve isn’t the same as doing a dodgy repair on an old age pensioner’s house. And exams aren’t really fair. Some people have poor memories. A little bit of creative cheating does no harm.

Leader: And now – the voice of the Anti-Cheats?

Reader 2: Everyone has to play by the rules. If the exam is run properly everyone gets the same chance. Cheats may think that they are fooling the school but in the end they are making fools of their friends.

Reader 1: Dream on! You can never stop cheating. Everybody’s doing it. My friends would all cheat if they got the chance.

Reader 2: In that case you need to get a different set of friends.

Leader: Any other excuses… good, bad or indifferent?

Reader 1: You might be driven to cheat if you were desperate. Suppose your parents had spent a lot of money on your education…or suppose you needed to get a certain job in order to support your starving family… then you might say… I’ve just got to cheat to get through this exam.

Reader 2: That’s still no excuse. Cheating is stealing. YOU will know that you’re a thief even if no one else does.

Leader: And believers in God will add: God knows too. Let’s move on. [Holds up exam paper] Imagine that this is the question paper for the next big exam. I’m absent-minded and I just happen to leave it on the table. You come in, take a look, and realize what it is. Would you keep it, or hand it in? First let’s hear the Cheat’s argument.

Reader 1: If the school is fool enough to leave the question paper lying around, then of course I’d use it. I’d probably make a quick photocopy. I might sell it… or maybe just hang on to it and get myself top marks.

Leader: Hmm… Now let’s hear from Anti-Cheat. I suppose you’d shut your eyes tight − without even looking at the questions − and take it straight to the school office?

Reader 2: I’m not sure what I would do. If I found the question paper lying around, I’d definitely be tempted to take a quick look. Yes, I would probably take a peep. But in the end I think I’d hand it in.

Leader: Which goes to show that we all have temptations. Now what about after school. Would it be OK to cheat in order to pass a driving test?

Reader 1: No, because that’s a test that really matters: a driver who can’t drive properly is much more likely to kill somebody.

Reader 2: But school exams matter too. If you learn to cheat now you’ll probably make a habit of doing it later on. Would anyone like to be treated by a doctor who cheated their way through medical school?

Leader: Let’s think about sport. Take cricket. If someone did something dodgy, people used to say ‘That’s not cricket!’ Batsmen who knew that they were out would walk without waiting for the umpire. But not any more − they wait to see if it’s been noticed. In football you get the ‘professional foul’ and, in rugby, players deliberately give away penalties to stop the other side scoring tries.

Reader 1: When sport was amateur, most people played for fun and didn’t need to cheat. But now top sport is professional and brings with it big money. If you had to make a professional foul to stop your team being relegated, you’d do it.

Leader: Does that mean that sportsmanship – the idea of ‘being a good sport’ – is dead?

Reader 2: It’s not dead as long as people believe in it.

Reader 1: But it’s on a life support machine.

Leader: One last question. Suppose I leave this exam paper lying about, and you spot it… would it make a difference if there was closed circuit TV in the room and you weren’t quite sure if it was switched on or not?

Reader 1: In that case I wouldn’t risk it. There’s no point in cheating if you can’t get away with it.

Reader 2: I’d still follow my conscience but the fear of getting caught would help me to do the right thing.

Response

Leader: Many thanks to our Readers, playing the parts of Cheat and Anti-Cheat. Let’s sum up: mobile phones and iPods may give us a new way to try old tricks, but it’s still the same old cheating – with the same old excuses too.

Don’t believe people who say ‘everybody does it’ because they are just plain wrong. What they mean is ‘my gang say that they are doing it.’ And sometimes we have to go against the gang.

Then there’s the excuse: ‘ I just can’t afford to fail…I need to get the grades.’ That’s understandable, but it’s still wrong. What would happen if we all tried it? Cheats can only prosper – if ever – because most of us are honest for most of the time.

And lastly, where does conscience come in? Of course we should obey our own conscience but we do need an external guide as well. Think about the speed limits. Most drivers don’t speed and are careful and conscientious but they still need those lights that flash and say ‘Slow down’.

Listen now to a very old prayer. It’s part of one of the Psalms in the Bible. They didn’t have written exams in those days, but they knew all about cheating…

Leader, or Reader: Lord, who may enter your temple?

A person who obeys God in everything,Who always does what is right,Whose words are true and sincereAnd who does not slander others,He does no wrong to his friends…He always does what he promisesNo matter what it may cost.

Whoever does these things will always be secure.

Amen

Psalm 15, verses 1a, 2, 3a, 4b, 6
(alternative reference from Psalm 25, Good News Bible)

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.

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