One more exam to give and then I'm blissfully done with proctoring (. . . for a few weeks at least, until the final set of exams begins). I thought that monitoring exams was a bore in the US, but it's infinitely worse here – it's one of the things that I absolutely dread.
I talked to the principal about the cheating problem, and he agreed that, for the biggest classes – my 150-person chemistry class and my 100-person science class – the school would print the exams for me. So that offered at least a partial solution – with printed exams, the students could be moved to a bigger classroom or the gym (the issue otherwise being that all of the students had to be relatively close to the blackboard so that they could read the exam). In theory, this would allow me to put more space in between the students and make cheating more difficult to undertake and easier to spot.
In practice, it was, unsurprisingly, a minor disaster. Moving the 8th-grade class in particular to another room took about 30 minutes (out of an hour-long exam). The room was locked so I had to find someone with a key to open it. Once we were inside, it turned out there were not enough chairs and some students had to import chairs from other classrooms. A minor fistfight broke out over one of the desks. I went over instructions for the test three or four times and then repeated same instructions individually about 30 times in response to student questions. Students still cheated and I still couldn't catch them all. I had to take points away from the several people I did catch, which I absolutely hate doing (the students don't like it much either, as they made very plain to me).
I've changed my mind again with regards to the cheating issue. I don't think anymore that students simply have a communal approach and want to help each other out; although that's true to an extent, they are perfectly happy to snitch on each other and refuse to work together when it suits them. I'm starting to think it's more of a cost-benefit analysis kind of a thing – not only with the student cheating, but more broadly with the corruption that is firmly ingrained in every aspect of society (which is becoming more and more apparent the more I look for it).
As I mentioned before, the individual costs of cheating, stealing, lying, and bribery are generally minimal, in school and out of school – since everyone does it, it's impossible to catch everyone (especially since the ones who should be doing the catching are corrupt as well). Even though people give lip service to the idea of honesty, dishonesty is really kind of expected; the general consensus seems to be “if you can get away with it, then it's OK” -- but if you get caught, look out. (Again, though, this is an overly simplistic way to look at it. There are exceptions; for example, pickpocketing is much less severe here than it was in Kenya). As an example of the ubiquity of the stealing problem, one of my friends recently pointed out to me that many of the small food items – juice and milk boxes and biscuits – that are sold on the streets are printed plainly with the words “FOR UN USE ONLY – NOT FOR RESALE.” And the benefits of dishonesty are very high – for people who, in general, have so little, any little bit helps.
Anyway. It's a difficult situation; how can I condemn people for their actions when I have the luxury of knowing that I do not need to resort to dishonesty because my basic needs will always be met? The situation in the schools is, fortunately, simpler – like I said before, I'm here to help the students learn, and allowing them to cheat goes directly against that goal. So even though I'm fighting a losing battle, there's nothing to do except keep on fighting.