The short distance between rote and plagiarism

The short distance between rote and plagiarism

The 106 students at Patra University’s Department of Business Administration who were caught cheating after submitting the exact same paper are nothing but products of the Greek education system. They had sat the university entrance exams and got into university by correctly parroting their lessons, fulfilling the requirements for tertiary education with hard work and a lot of money (cramming schools, accommodation once they got into Patra University, etc).

The rest is pretty familiar stuff. The student unions of the country’s political parties provide notes, cheat-sheets and other aids; the requirement for attendance at lectures varies depending on the department; the state of Greek universities is well documented – as is the act of plagiarism committed by the 106 students.

The question, however, is why plagiarism should be considered a reprehensible and punishable act when the rote system is deemed desirable and has come to form the bedrock of the Greek educational system. It is, of course, a rhetorical question because you can’t really compare the student who is taught by the rote to those who choose to cheat. Yet both categories lead the education race and, if we think about it a bit more, one can be considered a prerequisite or complement to the other: It’s a very short distance between rote and plagiarism.

The one thing these two have in common is that the questions don’t matter at all, as the answers are already set, memorized and shared from student to student. Understanding what it’s all about is unnecessary, just as useless as hard work and effort. That is not to say it doesn’t take skill to learn by rote and cheat successfully, but the result ultimately also effects society as a whole.

You get a different kind of citizen when he or she is shaped by the process of understanding and interpreting a lesson or a piece of information, and quite another when they’ve learned only to memorize or cheat. The former contributes to healthier public discourse, more civic control and better media, while the latter simply regurgitates information, allowing the prevalence of sordid power games played by student political unions, the lack of meritocracy and the debasement of excellence. The former hones judgment, reason, the ability to compose thoughts and broaden knowledge. Blunted judgment paves the way for manipulation, demagoguery or plain indifference.

Those 106 students in Patra did not spring from the ether. They may even feel that they didn’t do anything wrong. After all, they are only judged on their memorization skills, not on their sense of responsibility.

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