Ghost Writers in the Cloud-I

 “In China, and in many other countries, cheating and corruption is rampant – they have a philosophy that is completely different to us. Other countries don’t share our attitude. It’s more like if you can get away with it, then fine.” Associate Professor Martin Lally, Victoria University

According to Martin Lally, revelations of a commercial tertiary cheating service using ghost writers for Chinese-speaking students and others are probably just the tip of the iceberg. The low threshold for English competency in New Zealand universities, combined with different cultural attitudes to cheating, meant that the recent dial-a-grade revelation in the Sunday Star-Times “doesn’t come as the slightest surprise”.

Sui Generis

Time may tell how degrading this behaviour in New Zealand. One thing is certain: examination cheating in China has a long history because the Chinese Imperial Examination has a long history.

Established in 605 under the Sui Dynasty and flourishing under the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese imperial examination was designed to select the best potential candidates to serve as civil servants. *The system’s longevity should lift the sights of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. It continued, with some modifications, for 1300 years, until its 1905 abolition under the Qing Dynasty.

Tight quotas restricted the number of successful candidates. The examinations were designed as objective measures- the first standardized tests based on merit to evaluate the educational attainment and merit of the examinees. Higher level degrees tending to lead to higher ranking placements in the imperial government service.

The Chinese Imperial Examination had a huge influence on both society and culture in Imperial China and played a key role in the emergence of the scholar-officials, the Mandarins, who came to dominate Chinese society.

The system also contributed to  a narrowing of intellectual life and reinforced the autocratic power of the emperor, even if some of its recruits had doubts about the visibility of the garb of the current Emperor.

Evolving Curriculum

Pre Sui Dynasty tests to evaluate potential candidates consisted of various contests such as archery competitions, rather pointed way of sorting out the target market. The quiver brought a whole new dimension of exam nerves. Archery made cheating difficult but the contests were a bit hard to administer so the examinations evolved into a battery of tests administered at the district, provincial, and metropolitan levels. (After 1300 years they were still working on a properly moderated system of National Standards).

Candidates were initially tested on their proficiency in the “Six Arts”: Scholastic arts: music, arithmetic, writing, and knowledge of the rituals and ceremonies in both public and private life.

The curriculum was then expanded under the Sui Dynasty to cover the “Five Studies”: military strategy, civil law, revenue and taxation, agriculture and geography and the Confucian classics.  No mere 3Rs here; this was a broad curriculum-and no getting ahead by specialising in an arcane academic topic to snare a Ph.D. and frame one’s name with alphabetic prefixes and suffixes .

Infernal Assessment

Candidates arrived at an examination compound and were allocated a tiny room with a makeshift bed, desk, and bench and a few amenities including a water pitcher, a chamber pot, bedding, food, an ink stone, ink, and brushes. No short answer tests here: candidates spent three days and two nights writing “eight-legged essays”, with an octet of distinct sections.

They were not allowed any communication. If someone died during an exam, officials wrapped the body in a straw mat and dropped it over the compound’s high walls. In the annals of this Imperial system of infernal assessment these late and unlamented candidates were no doubt recorded as Not Achieved.

Invigilation

With intense pressure to succeed cheating and corruption were endemic.
Guards would verify the identity of each students and search them for hidden printed materials, sometimes written on their underwear*.

To discourage favoritism, each exam was recopied by an official copyist before marking so examiners wouldn’t identify their own student’s calligraphy. Even slightly creative writing was out: exact quotes from the classics were required for success. A misplaced character was enough to blot their copybook and disqualify a candidate; hence the ideogrammatically correct underwear to avoid being caught unawares.

The whole system offered Imperial Britain a role model for recruiting office wallahs in India and closer to home for the foreign and civil service.

It may also be worth considering by our State Services Commission as a way of preventing fake or inflated qualifications being brandished by public sector high

*Blinks
http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8663770/University-cheats-in-the-minority  http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8672646/Cheating-rampant-outside-NZ  http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8686568/Across-the-great-cultural-divide
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_examination  See photo of “Cribbing Garment” worn as underwear into the examination!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xsfw9CEQITA Vid Ghost Riders In The Sky Vaughn Monroe  1949
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwAPa0qHmLo  Vid Ghost Riders In the Sky:Frankie Laine

#Lyall Lukey  27 May 2013
http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz
https://bluggerme.wordpress.com My other (even) less serious blog

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One Response to Ghost Writers in the Cloud-I

  1. Gord Miller says:

    You say, “The system also contributed to a narrowing of intellectual life and reinforced the autocratic power of the emperor, even if some of its recruits had doubts about the visibility of the garb of the current Emperor.” Somehow with the growth of intrusive and elitist governments in the Western world, this statement seems very apropos here too.

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