Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nunzilla

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.

10 Comments:

Blogger knarf said...

Dominique, nique, nique, over the land he plods,
And sings a little song,
Never asking for reward,
He just talks about the Lord,
He just talks about the Lord!

5:36 PM  
Blogger Bimbo said...

And you still have hair to put the Garnier Belle-Color #550 in? These practices deeply offend my rule-making and abiding inner big sister (the secular kind).

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Cath said...

Sister Vivian would whip those clowns into shape. Nothing beats the one-two punch of a cold stare and sarcasm. It's served me well in my professional life.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

*Sigh* Sister Vivian was my favourite.

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Cath said...

She was a leftist, beer-swilling, pants-wearing breath of fresh air.
And so are you.

11:59 PM  
Blogger taamarbuuta said...

From one teacher of English to Moroccans to another, that is the most accurate account I've read so far of the cheating habits. I've managed to gain a reputation as a hard-ass by actually ripping up the exams of cheaters (fortunately our director backs me, the old one did not and I was made to look like a FOOL many times).

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Myrtus said...

What a brilliant post!

Things must have changed dramatically in morocco since I was a kid. Back then teachers reigned with terror and mean sticks. Cheating was absolutely out of the question. I can tell you all kinds of horror stories where the teachers abused the kids to the point of drawing blood. I also remember this one particular teacher that used to twist our ears as a warning against cheating. He'd go walking around the room and pick one of the kids at random and start twisting his/her ear and screaming, "no cheating! You hear?"
I also went to Catholic school in Melilla between age 5-6 so I can relate a little bit to the nun part of your post too. Nuns rule! :D

3:29 AM  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...

To be fair Myrtus, I don't have a handle on what's happening in regular school classrooms - I'm at a language school. There's a lot of talk about continued student-abuse in classrooms (the reign of terror that you alluded to) but I think that that's primarily in the countryside. In the cities? - who knows? It's hard to believe that this kind of behaviour is condoned. I just don't know.

Today, Mr CinR gave a test to a class of fairly high-level students. One of his more clever students finished the test in no time flat and then kindly took his neighbour's test & began to finish it for him. He was halfway through before Mr CinR caught them.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous monsieur mike said...

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8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just READING this post made me want to scream--I can't imagine having to put up with it on a daily basis. More power to you, and hopefully they will reap what they sow.

8:43 PM  

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