As students move upwards through the secondary school one could argue that the academic achievement stakes become higher with students and parents eagerly seeking placement at a good college / university. Subsequently, there is significant interest in students achieving the highest marks possible.

The media has given much exposure to security breaches surrounding the SAT, with some strong assertions made regarding groups of people that could include students, parents, agents and other stakeholders seeking to gain unfair advantage in this university admissions test.

Many schools are required to have an academic honesty policy, especially those schools where students submit work to an examining body for moderation or external assessment. In some circumstances, students must sign a form that declares that the work is the student’s own.

Having an academic honesty policy and having students sign a declaration form is not enough to safeguard against academic malpractice and students gaining unfair advantage. It would be naïve to believe that any school does not face issues with academic honesty, my own school faces cases each year, just like other schools. It would be dismissive of any school leader to say that no academic malpractice occurs in their school. The most important thing to understand is how we tackle the problem.

Firstly, we need to understand why academic malpractice by students occurs. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Students may place unrealistic expectations on themselves to perform, they compare their achievements to others and wish to perform at a higher level than where they are currently at.
  2. Parents may place significant pressure on their children to perform. The level to which they wish their children to perform may be realistic or unrealistic but either way, children develop a fear of failure and a pressure to please their parents.
  3. It is easier in this day and age for students to engage in academic malpractice. We live in a two-click copy and paste culture. Added to that is student access to an abundance of information sources from around the globe at the click of a button via the Internet.
  4. Students are not taught the principles of why it is important to practice academic honesty. This education goes beyond a teacher saying that a student will be given a score of ‘0’ if they cheat. It is about students understanding that being academically honest is the right thing to do, even though this could mean, perhaps, not getting as high a grade as one may want.
  5. Students are not taught the explicit skills of being academically honest. To have good practice of academic honesty, students need to know how to reference sources, quote from a piece of text and paraphrase effectively. Furthermore, they need to be able to understand what a credible source is.
  6. Poor time management skills leads to last minute rushing to meet a deadline, hence the temptation to engage in academic malpractice in order to meet a deadline becomes a reality for some students who fear the consequence of not submitting anything at all.

Schools can take steps to supporting students with good academic honesty practices; it goes beyond threatening students with the consequences, which unfortunately is something practiced by many teachers. In my next post, I will share with you some of the strategies teachers can use to support students in being principled, good communicators, of academic work.