On this blog up until now, I have kept all of my posts (at least mostly) positive about Moldova (this hasn’t been hard, since overall, I love this country). This post is about a less positive topic that has been a part of my experience here. I am not a classroom teacher here, but I hear the stories from the Peace Corps Volunteers who teach english or health here and from the youths I interact with in other forums.
The stories of cheating and corruption range from small stories of so and so copying from their neighbor’s paper, to the best students in the class literally standing in front of the room and reading answers to others or simply passing their completed tests around for the others to copy. The stories of corruption range from teachers simply playing favorites to certain students, to teachers outright requesting money for grades.
This past week I attended trainings in Chisinau for two days and instead of commuting from Balti each day, I decided to take this as an opportunity to stay with a friend of mine who lives a 30 minute or so ride from Chisinau. The first evening I arrived after a rather eventful rutiera ride, around 7p. Just after I arrived, my friend’s partner teacher (she’s an english teacher) asked my friend to come meet her at the school and help her write an answer key to a test. My friend asked if I could come and the Teacher said no, but I brought a book and we figured I could just read while my friend worked.
It was a nice evening and we decided to take a walk over to her school and help. At first I sat off to the side while they discussed, reading my book and enjoying the beautiful early spring weather. Then my friend motioned me over, we were going to her partner teacher’s house to work on this. I should have realized at this point that we were in for a long evening.
We arrived at the house and there was something unusual. There were none of the normal offers for coffee, tea or water. Instead we entered and the house and sat at the table and worked creating an answer key for this test, as we had been told the teacher’s friend needed. Luckily my friend’s radar went off on this and she asked a lot of questions about who this was for, until we realized, the teacher’s friend’s sister went to a European school in Chisinau and this was her english exam.
This is especially ironic because the teacher and the two of us had just finished a long conversation about cheating in Moldova, how rampant it is and how teachers here are ‘powerless’ to combat it. During this conversation I made clear how I would handle it and how little tolerance I had for the arguments of teachers or students here for cheating.
Once my fellow volunteer and myself realized that we were in fact being asked to complete an english exam for a high school student, we ripped up the papers and said no. If this as where the story ended, I would feel quite differently, however it is not. My fellow volunteer and I, under pressure from her partner teacher, agreed to work with the girl on the exam, if the student in question came over.
(I should have, in retrospect, left at this very moment and refused any part of it, but out of fear on my part and on the part of my fellow volunteer, for ruining the working relationship she has with the teacher in question or maybe because simply we weren’t sure what to do – we stayed.)
We ended up waiting about 30 minutes for the student to arrive and then working through the exam with her. During this, the teacher who was there kept encouraging us to do it for her and simply supplying the answers to the girl, rather than even allowing her the opportunity to answer on her own.
At the end of the evening, I had a dirty feeling, I regretted not leaving or speaking up, while this girl cheated, and the teacher received a large, expensive gift from the sister of the student.
In order to graduate high school in Moldova, students are required to pass the Baccalaureate exams, or subject tests. The subjects a student is required to take depends on the student’s course of study. Scores on the exam determine which universities they will be accepted into, similar to SAT scores, but with more weight. Since the stakes on these exams are high, as you might imagine, cheating is common. A blog from a previous Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova describes this well:
Students will bring in laminated, pre-written essays that have been shrunk to credit card size using a copy machine; they will give up a dummy cell phone at the door and use a hidden one to receive answers via text, often from their teachers (whom they’ve paid for the help); they will bribe people along the way to get advance notice of questions and answers; they will pay the proctors to turn a blind eye, as need be. I taught close to forty twelfth graders, and I suspect that out of all of them, perhaps one girl didn’t cheat at all on any subject, and she’s a social outcast for it. Even some of my brighter students told me offhand that they had planned to cheat on the Geography test specifically — according to them, the test just isn’t passable by itself. (Click here for complete post.)
Last year, in efforts to combat the rampant cheating on this exam, the Moldovan Minister of Education, Maia Sandu lead the charge to install video surveillance systems into the exam rooms. With the installation of these cameras, 40% of high school students failed at least one exam – the majority of these students blaming the cameras for their failure. If you are interested to read more about cheating on this exam in Moldova, here is another interesting article on it.
Paying for grades and prizes:
Especially on the University level, paying for grades is quite common. I have heard countless stories from Moldovan friends in various Universities here who have been told by a teacher that they would not receive the mark they had earned up until that point if they did not pay a sum of money to the Professor in question.
On the High School level I have heard less of bribes (although I have heard a few stories) going directly to teachers for general classroom grades, but I have heard several of these stories of bribery relating to academic competitions between high schools.
What are the effects of cheating in Moldova?
The cheating and corruption present in the current system are believe to at least partially account for the fact that while Moldova spends 8% of its GDP on education, (higher than neighboring countries) it somehow does not produce enough qualified workers. I have seen this first hand, and in one especially troubling cheating anecdote I heard about the rampant cheating at one of the medical schools here. Activists against bribery worry that school corruption is having long-term consequences, such as diluting the quality of learning for all students.
In the unsurprising results from a study of corruption in schools in Moldova, the Partnership for Transparency Fund found that students who knew that money could buy them better grades tended to exert less effort in studying. Aside from these reasons, currently Moldovan Universities are not accredited abroad.
While it may be that currently working together on exams is not considered cheating, by Moldovan standards, I believe that most teachers and students know that there is something not right in doing this. However, until teachers refuse to allow this in their classrooms, students will continue to make this common practice and the effects from it – failing to be able to pass Bac exams and the larger issues of a less than qualified workforce will continue.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to suggest that there are not very motivated, very smart students in Moldova, who work very hard and who do not cheat. This post is about my personal experience with cheating here and how detrimental it is to everyone involved. Furthermore, this post and my experience covers only a small sliver of the schools, students, teachers and visible portion of the educational system and can not be taken as definitive statements.