Thursday, April 12, 2007


I have just figured out what Morocco needs. Nuns. Singing nuns, flying nuns – it doesn’t really matter. Nuns and lots of them. Think of that iconic nun Sister Mary Fill-in-the-Blank marching up and down the aisles of a primary school classroom, slapping a lethal metal-edged ruler into her palm, that ruler itching to come thwacking down on some unsuspecting cheater’s desk? Hear the eardrum-cracking sound as wood hits wood! See her students jump out of their skins and two feet off of their chairs in terror!

Well, I need a few nuns.

It pains me to admit that I was woefully unprepared for the amount of cheating (and the contingent complete lack of accountability) that runs seemingly rampant and unchecked in Morocco Moroccan schools. A student who has plagiarized a text (a rather blatant and ham-fisted cut & paste job from the internet) will calmly deny his crime until you are blue in the face. When you finally produce the original text - a text which included a plethora of verbal forms, such as the past perfect simple & continuous, a few subjunctives, a smattering of 3rd conditionals, and the odd instance of reported speech which your Pre-Intermediate student has no chance of grasping - your reward, the public acknowledgement for your academic policing efforts will probably be a shrug. Or, if you're lucky, tears. Because there is always an excuse tucked up a sleeve and there is no shame in trying to cheat. Nothing ventured ...

In Morocco, exams (such as we know it) aren't so much a standardized means of determining what a student has learned and assimilated, what his or her strengths and weaknesses are, but a ritualistic and formulaic passing of time in a classroom environment in which test papers are distributed and varying degrees of effort and ingenuity are expended answering the questions. Or watching the clock. It would seem that many Moroccans aren’t goal-oriented, they’re results-oriented. Who cares if, after 10 weeks in my class, they still say "I must to go"? They have a paper to prove that they successfully completed their level.

Exams are a farce. Although a select cadre of keeners may study and genuinely put stock in their results, the majority won’t. They don’t need to. They can cheat. Kids cheat and adults cheat. Teens cheat and fifty-year old housewives cheat. Cheat cheat cheat cheat. They unabashedly look at each other’s papers, they speak to each other during the exam, they search through their textbooks for the correct answers when I’m not looking (at least they have the decency to wait until my back is turned) … it’s overwhelmingly disheartening to one accustomed to studying and living with the consequences of my preparation and performance. Recently, an adult student screamed like a banshee at a colleague of mine when the former tried to extricate the open textbook out of the latter's hands during an exam.

If, during a test, I tell my students to be quiet, they very considerately lower their voices and continue talking. Truly, it doesn’t matter that I scream, admonish, threaten to tear up test papers. They continue to cheat because they can, because if it's not exactly encouraged, it’s at least condoned. And when I hold a student accountable for their plagiarism, for their copying during an exam? The reaction? Horror? Embarrassment at their colleague's actions? En masse, his or her classmates will rally to the defence. Oh teacher, they plead as I hold the offending essay on high, my hands poised to tear it in two, be nice!

I mentioned in a previous posting that when the last elections were held here, many primary school certificates (which a candidate must possess in order to stand for office) submitted by winning candidates were discovered to have been forged. There are those who believe that cheating is viewed as a basic tool to succeed, that individuals conduct their lives with the fundamental expectation that they can cheat. Although some cheaters will act on their own, others will rely on others for assistance. This form of symbiotic cheating is generally accepted because it is seen (by many) as a means of helping out “a brother or a sister”; at least this is how it’s been explained to me. I continue to be gobsmacked when a strong student, without hesitation, turns their test paper in the direction of a weaker student in order to facilitate their copying. Simply put: it's their duty to help each other out. Who am I to upset the pedagogical apple cart?

I used to stay up nights concocting scathingly brilliant ways to prevent cheating, but the only tangible results were the dark circles under my eyes. It's been noted that the western concept of guilt is sorely lacking in Morocco; instead, what exists is a deep-rooted sense of shame. In many situations, a well-timed shooma (shame on you) directed at the offending party - whether he be an unscrupulous shopkeeper or a Not Very Nice Man - will produce the necessary results: a reddened face, a hangdog expression. Some teachers have had success with this in the classroom - especially among young children. I have not. I confess that for me, humiliation is the last straw in my teaching bag of tricks (how's that for mixing metaphors?). If I have to publicly deride a student in front of his peers, then my days as a teacher are over.

Unless ...

… unless I can enlist a few Sister Mary Fatima Zahras. If a couple of ruler-wielding penguins can't fix this, nothing can. I say, send phalanxes of them into government ministries, the hanoots, the suqs, the taxi stands, the tourist shops, the phone company. Not only will they put an end to corruption and cheating, they can train people to stand in line at the same time! In fact, I bet even they can kick the butts of our incendiary-inclined friends in Casa. In a match against a suicide bomber and Nunzilla, there can only be one victor - and my money would be on the one with the rosary, not the one with the detonator.

No comments: