The turncoat

Whole libraries could be written, and probably have been, on ELT in China. The great country of unbelievable possibilities. All the stories.. I was teaching English conversation at one of the many provincial colleges and institutes that collect poor farmers’ money in exchange for promises of brighter futures for their kids. It’s called college, but actually you do not get a real degree. Only very few of the kids have a chance to go to a real university. I was in charge of giving oral examination and some the students were clearly distressed about the thing. One of the girls failed after resolute silence provided as a response to “Tell about your free time’ and problems remembering the name of the school this was taking place. After few other more or less successful test-takers, I saw one of the more able girls striding my office again. Sure I blamed my inability to discern all the hundreds of students I was in charge of. Then she told me her name – oh, another mistake, the name already failed the test. She says she wanted to take it again. Now I got it. She was wearing the failed girl’s coat and pretended to be her! Really? Cheap trick. “I saw you just 20 minutes ago!’ I said. I was not blind after all. “I know it is you”. Still no response. “I know you want to help your friend”. I had to laugh. 56 uniforms and one red coat – not an optimal opportunity for impostors. They still tried. 5 points for creativity. Few other students failed, I told them to come again and again and eventually everyone passed – the bar was 2 nanometers above the ground at that time. I did not hassle about the ‘cheating’, just had a good laugh about it.

Cheating in tests is perhaps as old as tests themselves. Do you remember the news about parents in India trying to throw in cheat sheets wrapped around stones into the testing center room? (some may have inured their kids’ competitors and really do something for their kids) Some teachers say: A good test is the one where you can’t cheat. Not true I think, many good tests can be cheated in. Some say: You only cheat yourself. Partly true. The more tests done just for the record, the more cheating there will be. Cheating at tests is a sad result of students’ getting accustomed to the dumbing reality of schooling with little true learning. Turning your coat may look a bit ludicrous and I saw it as silly at most at that time. But now it stands out as a metaphor for something more.

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