Cheating? What’s That?


I’m going to start  with a little story that is familiar to any volunteer who has sat in a classroom here in Moldova on a test day (this story is not fictional, but my observations from a recent test).

Today is test day in the 9th form.  In our last class, we reviewed for the coming test and we even gave our students pretty specific hints as to what would be on their test the next time the class met.  Students shuffle in and take their places.  They have switched their seats from the ones they generally sit in and most are sitting two to a desk.  My partner teacher and I tell them “Only one student to a desk!”.  They sigh and grudgingly move to other seats.  One student attempts to move his new seat as close to the edge of the desk as possible toward the desk next to it.  We hand out the evaluation notebooks and write the test questions on the board.  The students begin to work on their test.  Every student has their textbook open, their class notebooks open, and a dictionary is passed around the room as needed.  This is by every means an “open-book” test.  My partner teacher, once settled at her desk, tells the students “If you have the same written responses as another student, you will both receive a grade of 5 [out of 10- passing here, but just barely]”.  Many of the students look at her in disbelief and shift uncomfortably in their seats.  

In the next forty minutes of the class period, I catch students (all but two, in fact) “cheating” in the following ways: passing notes, passing entire evaluation notebooks, talking to one another, not-so-subtly putting their textbooks (with correct answers circled) in a particularly visible spot on their desks so others can see, using their phones (and then using them again and again even after being warned), throwing wads of paper with the answers to students all the way across the room, getting up and walking around in order to see others’ answers, and asking the teacher for the answers (which thankfully, she doesn’t give).  Despite this obvious and known “cheating”, we only take points off for two evaluations in which every answer was word for word the same.  Those students still “pass” but with a grade that’s not considered good.  

If you are an American reading this, you might be surprised to learn that “cheating” as we understand it in the United States is not really considered a bad thing here in Moldova.  In fact it’s quite rare for rules regarding cheating to be enforced even as “strictly” as they were in my story here.  We took points off on two tests and ended up taking away five phones.  We also verbally warned students not to talk to one another or help one another (albeit, without any real consequences).  If you ask students about how to “cheat the test” they will proudly tell you of all the techniques and strategies they have used.

In the United States we take cheating to be a serious thing.  Any course you take in college and many you take in high school will start with a short review of all the ways in which cheating or academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.  In elementary, middle, and high schools, a teacher might give you a zero on a test if you are found to have cheated.  In college, they can throw you out for academic dishonesty.

But cheating and academic dishonesty is viewed quite differently here.  It’s seen as a way to succeed and not as a morally wrong thing.  It’s simply part of what you do as a student.  Students know how to and do “cheat” on tests and homework assignments.  Even if teachers or schools have rules to curb cheating, they are rarely enforced.

So why the difference?

Americans tend to be quite individualistic in nature.  We value doing our own work, working hard, and giving credit where credit is due.  Although we aren’t opposed to helping others, we tend to value independence and most of us want to know that we’ve succeeded because of what we’ve done, not for what others have done for us.

Moldovans, on the other hand, tend to be much more collectivist.  The group is more important that the individual.  If you can help another person, you should do so.  It doesn’t devalue your work or theirs by doing so.  They aren’t as concerned with who did the work or who “deserves the grade” but that the work was done and the grade was achieved, regardless of the means.

This is one small example of the ways in which American culture and Moldovan culture is different.  From my standpoint, based on my experiences in America, cheating is “wrong”.  But I’ve had to rethink how I view cheating when in a Moldovan classroom.  Perhaps it’s less “wrong” and more just simply different.  It’s easy to think that our opinions, particularly if they are supported largely by our culture, are right, while others’ conflicting opinions are wrong.  But when we simply think of ourselves and our culture as right and “their” opinions and culture as wrong, we are making a very big mistake.  We aren’t considering that for “them”, the opposite is true.  We aren’t considering that for many things, there is no one right way to do things or to think about things.  When we instead look more deeply and with more understanding, we have an opportunity to learn about another group of people and to experience something really beautiful.

This post is part of Blogging Abroad’s 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences.