How Can We Keep Kids From Cheating in School?

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For older generations, studying involved a trip to the library and poring over several tomes of information.  Now, thanks to the Internet, students have quick research tools like Google and Wikipedia.  That should mean that there is less work for them to do in order to find the information they need. 

If that’s the case, shouldn’t studying be a simpler task for this generation? Shouldn’t kids be less likely to cheat in order to get ahead?

Unfortunately, not so much.

McAfee recently issued the Digital Divide 2012 survey and discovered that a good percentage of students chose cheating via mobile device or website in order to complete an assignment in a timely manner. 

48% of all the teens surveyed admitted to looking up the answers to a test or assignment online.  22% of those students cheated specifically on a test using the Internet or their phone, and 15.8% admitted to specifically using their phone to look up test answers.  Additionally, 14.1% researched how to cheat on a test. 

Fine, but with so many kids breaking the rules, parents obviously must be aware that this is happening, right? Wrong. A whopping 77.2% of parents said that they were not worried about their teen cheating online.  So we took some time to talk to McAfee’s Chief Privacy Office and parent tech safety advocate, Michelle Dennedy about the problem.

Too much to do, not enough time.

“Just this morning (Fri Aug 31) I switched on the television and heard a news story about a group of students at Harvard University – supposedly one of the greatest academic institutions in the world with an honor code against cheating that spans over a century – who had been caught cheating,” she says. “Ironically, they were studying Government.  If our ‘best and brightest’ are cheating, how can we think that others are not tempted as well?”

Dennedy highlighted that we live in a time where the information kids are expected to learn has multiplied tenfold, and in order to get into a top college, they are also expected to have a wide variety of extracurricular activities.  Meanwhile, the availability of information via the Internet means that they have the answers, literally, in the palm of their hands.  For many overwhelmed students, cheating has become an escape route.

“Cheating, like so many things in our society is an easy, cheap, and quick fix; but the lasting impact of a child who does not do his own work can result in a child without drive or vision or creativity or pride and these too can last a lifetime. […]The great news for parents is that understanding the temptations and ease of access to quick fix data is a great opening for us to share our deepest feelings of excitement about the things that do matter, that take time, and that last.”

How can parents help?

What this means is that, as a parent, there may not be anything you can do (reasonably) to keep your child from cheating, but what you can do is instill a sense of pride and honor in your child to do the right thing and to create meaningful work on their own.

Something that parents and teachers alike can do is implement an honor code.  While we’ve already included an example of how Harvard’s honor code has proven faulty, it’s not the existence of an honor code that sparked the cheating incident; it was the lack of moral honor within the students.  Once parents have taught their children discipline and honor, a classroom honor code can remind students that they owe it to themselves and their instructor to do honest work.

Can we change the system?

We asked Dennedy what she thinks about easing up on test standards to prevent cheating.  Many cases of cheating and dishonest work are blamed on the impossibly high standards that kids are held to and the low quality of the resources at their disposal. 

“I don’t think we need to spoon feed children or make things so easy that they don’t feel challenged,” she told us.  “I do think that we do, as parents and educators, need to think about the outcomes we want and ask perhaps for less volume and more quality.”

She went on to describe to us the monotonous work load her daughter was bringing home that involved a hefty pile of fill-in-the-blank worksheets for every subject.  While that may have sufficed for the curriculum, it did her daughter no good to fill in words instead of solving problems or using higher level thinking to evaluate topics.  “It’s really, really easy, tempting, and almost encouraged for kids to cheat just to make it through the drudgery,” she concluded.

Get kids to engage.

The best solution to cheating is to engage students beyond reciting facts.  By linking courses like history and mathematics, students can evaluate the information they are learning and find value in it.  Perhaps, the best way to prevent cheating at home is to first write to the school district about the quality and quantity of work your kids bring home.  Work to bring about a change in the way they test your child’s knowledge.  Then help your children to find connections between topics and subjects.

After transferring her daughter to a local charter school, Mrs. Dennedy says, “The chance to know overwhelms the chance to cheat, and now technology is there to expand, to gather, and to engage.  […] Just a slight change in how we engage with our students, teachers, school, and technology turns a cheating epidemic into a festival of knowledge and discovery.”

How do you help your child stay motivated and challenged with their school work?

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