EU Bars Pakistan’s National Airline After Pilots Accused of Cheating on Exams
Last week, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) grounded 150 pilots who were suspected of not having a valid pilot’s license. The decision came out of an investigation that was conducted after a PIA crash that killed 98 people in May, which found human error by the pilot to be the reason for the disaster. Following the investigation, Pakistan’s aviation minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, brought into question the qualifications of 260 (out of 860) Pakistani pilots, who had cheated during their exams but still got licenses from the country’s aviation authority. After his announcement, the European Union barred PIA from flying into Europe for six months; the Pakistan government has fired state officials from the regulatory agency; and it is planning to file criminal charges against Pakistani pilots who cheated their way to a license.
This investigation signals the disastrous effects of academic cheating, a phenomenon which is unfortunately all too common and normalized in academic environments in South Asia. Annual exam season at the school level, for example, often breeds a “cheating mafia,” a network of people who help desperate students and parents cheat for money, a Guardian investigation found. Exam supervisors are often incentivized to help students cheat or overlook the cheating, while teachers and principals are motivated by the promise of promotions that is dependent upon how many of their students pass their exams. This incentive, reports show, even enables school principals to encourage their students to cheat, teaching them how to bribe examiners.
From leaking question papers every year, and parents in Bihar scaling buildings to help their kids cheat, to 10 lakh students not showing up to their exams in Uttar Pradesh after the state installed anti-cheating measures, there is a culture of impunity that often surrounds academic cheating. “I’m very, very worried about the impact this has on the moral fabric of children,” Narayan Ramaswamy, head of KPMG’s education practice, tells the Financial Times. “The respect we have for the learned community and teachers will go down. We will not be able to trust when somebody says, ‘I am a graduate.’ Over time, we will have a society of mediocrity.”
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This phenomenon, however, is not the fault of students who try to game the system. It’s a sign of an inherently broken system that often prioritizes students’ output — marks, university admission, rank on a standardized test — than finding ways to get students excited about the learning process itself. When rote learning still pervades teaching methodology, it’s not a leap to conclude students will find a way around it. When students are not made to see the value in their education, then it makes sense that they don’t value it, that they try to cheat their way to an educational degree.
This is not to say cheating only happens in South Asian countries such as Pakistan or India. This is also not to say all students cheat in India, or all institutions let students get away with cheating. But the ways in which cheating is viewed, let run rampant in schools, sometimes even encouraged, signals a skewed cultural perception of the phenomenon — as not so bad, as not tied to a person’s integrity, as something that is a regular occurrence, to be treated with resignation or nonchalance. At the end of it all, it’s the students who bear the brunt of this conditioning, never having been required to show what they learned, and only asked to repeat their textbooks.
This inculcation of cheating culture, however, does end up creating an environment where adults, who were not held accountable as children, often repeat similar behaviors in situations where the stakes are higher. It creates an environment devoid of accountability, or a clear black and white demarcation between honesty and dishonesty, which the Pakistani pilot incident shows can lead to deadly consequences. The only way to break this cycle is to reform the education system, in a way that teaches young kids the importance of learning, and deprioritizes the performance of achievement.