Archive for February, 2012

Education in the UAE: Managing the Problem rather than Solving the Problem. A disgrace.

Posted on: February 15th, 2012 by Tom Pattillo No Comments

From the National

Pupils have been cheating ‘since kindergarten’

DUBAI // As universities instal surveillance cameras to try to combat cheating, websites are still offering essay-writing services that allow students to hand in perfect work with no effort.

Cheating is a well-known and pervasive problem. Many educators complain that they face a total lack of understanding from many students – and even some teachers – that there is anything wrong in submitting work that is not their own.

Even among students who realise it is not acceptable, an “everybody’s at it” attitude persists.

Last year, the American University in the Emirates (AUE) became the first to install cameras in corridors, classes and exam halls, although the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research announced in November that it would soon do the same in all federal universities.

AUE believes the move has already cut cheating by three-quarters. “We haven’t stopped them, no,” admits its president, Prof Muthanna Razzaq, “but this semester there have been 120 cases … out of nearly 3,000 students. In the beginning, this was 100 per cent.”

The university’s provost, Prof Nabeel Jurdi, says cheating is ingrained in the education culture “from way down”.

Prof Razzaq adds: “I can’t change it. There are some students who have been doing this since KG2 [age 5-6]. For exams I’m even cutting off mobile phone and wireless signals.”

Meanwhile, a host of websites offer professional, degree-level essay writing services, boasting that they can beat any anti-plagiarism system.

One says: “Our experienced PhD and Master level writers are able to produce custom essays on all Business related topics according to the requirements and format you need.

“All papers ordered from us are completely authentic. Our custom essays are written solely for you.”

In October, one leaflet from UAE Essays was left on all the cars in the male campus of Zayed University, offering services from essay writing to personal statements and PowerPoint presentations.

It read: “We do them all for any course and any major that you are enrolled in.”

One Zayed University student whose friends have used the service, says: “It has become a business. There are plenty of students who can easily afford Dh500-Dh1,000 for a paper if it means good grades. I don’t see the point in being here if I’m not going to achieve it for myself though.”

Dr Kenneth Wilson, campus head of Zayed University, says: “This is a challenge for everybody, especially in the digital age. We, like every university in the world, are grappling with this.”

He says there have been cases of students being caught using professional writing services. “The system comes down very hard on them and it can lead to suspension from the university.”

At UAE University, one science student says using an essay-writing service is seen merely as seeking help, not cheating.

“We have so much to do and we need help,” she says. “We approach these people because it may just be something small, like checking grammar, but there is a lot of pressure.”

One business student at Al Ain Women’s College admits she had used an online service because her workload was too high.

“It’s too much,” she says. “There are daily and weekly reports, so many assignments, it’s hard to cope. I have even more work to do than my friends at UAEU. It’s worse for the men as many of them have jobs too.”

Universities are doing what they can to educate their students about the ethics of plagiarism. But, says Dr Wilson, “it’s hard for them to get their head around in the beginning”.

In December 2010, 34 students were expelled from Abu Dhabi University for cheating. It has been a wake-up call to students.

Fatima Abdul-Kader, 19, a finance student, says: “The university has made students more aware of the policy on cheating. Some people are completely new to the concept of plagiarism.”

February 13, 2012

Tom Pattillo’s comment that was not acceptable to the National.

Pupils have been cheating ‘since kindergarten’

Where do I start?

Education and cheating:

Cameras and increased security in the hallways and other areas of a school in the year 2012 seems totally inappropriate. What is this stopping? Handing things to each other (when there is 100% electronic connection), or talking during exams (that has been prevented for years with exam room set-ups)?

Yet: “AUE believes the move has already cut cheating by three-quarters. “We haven’t stopped them, no,” admits its president, Prof Muthanna Razzaq, “but this semester there have been 120 cases … out of nearly 3,000 students. In the beginning, this was 100 per cent.”

What is the nature of the “cheating” that has been reduced by (3000 minus 120 = 2880 / 3000 = 96%) 96%? (Not sure how that works out to 75%.) However whether 75% or 96%, wow!

Of course if cheating is prevented by external forces (extrinsic) rather than internal values (intrinsic), what has school actually taught these students? Force creates students looking for ways to avoid being caught, not a personal choice not to cheat.

How does a society prevent cheating, and in particular plagiarism?

AUE . . . university’s provost, Prof Nabeel Jurdi, says cheating is ingrained in the education culture “from way down”.

That is an interesting statement from an education expert.

A basic course in logic and/or critical thinking might see this as a rather fallacious argument. How does this move the discussion forward, or get us any closer to a solution? It sounds like Prof. Jurdi has been aware of and in a sense condoning cheating for years and years and years. Surely there must be a more logical approach?

I have written this comment a number of times. At first I wanted to attack the credibility of those quoted and their rationalizations as to why it was understandable that cheating and plagiarism occurred. Then I wanted to analyze the situation in the UAE to give insight into why cheating and plagiarism are rampant.

However, both those approaches seem merely reflex reactions rather than valid suggestions. I then considered writing about how to determine the actual problem, find solutions, implement the ideas. That took up several pages. Finally I decided I would write about my approach to teaching and why I believe passionately in my role as a mentor, a role model, and best possible teacher I can be.

There are reasons people “cheat” and “plagiarize” without knowing they are doing anything wrong. It is easy to rationalize, deflect criticism, blame others, and stand behind statements “everyone is doing it,” or that it is endemic to this “young” generation from their earliest days.

The bottom line for a true professional is to either do the right thing or “get out”. To continue to receive payment when clearly you cannot do the activity for which you are paid, is fraud. (wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain).

“The goal of education is not knowledge but action.” Spenser.

An easy maxim to quote. To me it means that education is only education if it allows the “graduate” to “do” (act) effectively, to get “the” job done in a timely, professional, and appropriate manner.

As important, the “graduate” understands that life-long learning is a major part of being a professional. Education is NOT about degrees, certificates, seminars attended, books read, or lists of internet sites visited. Those can be bought.

As an ex-basketball coach, I know “performance” is the only measure of success. If the player cannot do it (what I have “taught” them), they don’t know it. (I have failed.) Do that enough, and a coach gets fired.

If a person is responsible for, and being paid for, “changing” the behavior of another person, (in this case to move them from “not knowing something” to “knowing something” or “not knowing how to do something” to “knowing how to do something” but they are consistently unable to do so, is grounds for dismissal.

Currently I am a volunteer patient with the Dalhousie Medical School. Those students only become doctors if they can do what they are taught. Volunteer patients do not teach the knowledge required, the volunteer patient allows the student to learn, then prove (confirm) that the student is able to do what is necessary to use the knowledge they have been “taught.”

A person can only be considered a professional if they achieve to an exemplary extent the job requirements and responsibility of their profession. If they cannot achieve this, and knowingly accept financial compensation while failing to meet the standards, then they are defrauding their employer, and setting a tremendously horrible example for students who look up to them, parents (and society) that trusts them, and school boards who pay them.

Sorry, I keep getting angry. My students are evaluated on what they can do, what they can present, what they write that is their’s and their’s alone. I do not have bad students. (I said that to my peers at the HCT who, in the first meeting of the term, went around the group asking who was going to be a problem this year. They considered me hopelessly naive.) I reiterate, I do not have bad students. I may have students I have not figured out how to teach, but finding that out is my responsibility as a professional teacher.

Cheating is the only option for those who are failed by their teachers and the system in which the teachers work. If students are required to pass an exam, without being given the tools, knowledge, skills, to pass that exam (while knowing they cannot “criticize” the teachers, the system, AND  MUST live up to their parents expectations) what option does the student have but to cheat? (Do the teachers who failed to teach want their students to fail? No. So turning a blind eye to the “cheating” is a viable strategy to maintain their jobs and revenue.)

Plagiarism is, again, a response to incompetence (by teachers and the system that pays them). Nailing people after the fact, if not an effective method to change behavior. EVER. My comments are not new. Educational basics are constant. A professional teacher, responding to evidence that lecturing is ineffective or the environment of teaching is changing (social communications, texting, and evolving cultural norms) may change techniques but never the basic fundamentals of learning. Of course, overriding all of this, is the principle that you are only paid for performance. Payment for non-performance is collusion to defraud. The citizens of the UAE deserve better.

What does your paper gain by publishing this?

What does the UAE potentially gain by publishing it?

February 15, 2012

This is Tom Pattillo’s comment to his comment not being acceptable.

Sorry my comments were not acceptable. I wish only the best for the young people of the UAE.

The editorial by Melanie today (Feb. 16) quotes some “education experts” whom if properly vetted would not hold the positions they hold today.

Education theory and practice are not the same. To have academics advising on education (or rather on teaching) is not working . . . and has not worked.

There are alternatives that your education experts either do not know, or do not wish to apply, or do not want to suggest for fear of losing their jobs.

Over and over I make the point that Managing the Problem is NOT Solving the Problem. So much money spent, so many ideas suggested, and so many projects touted as the answer (not sure of course what they suggested were the problems), and everything failed and failed and failed.

No one is held responsible. The same people who initiated the failed solution, are paid again to solve the problem. Over and over and over and over again.

The leaders, the citizens, the children of the United Arab Emirates deserve better.

The National, representing professional, truthful and thorough research and reporting, is (I hope) fearless in the face of official or unofficial censorship. The National has (I think) an ethical and moral responsibility to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. If not, what media reporting principles does the National stand for?


The Middle East: The Arab League, Syria, the US, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan,China

Posted on: February 4th, 2012 by Tom Pattillo No Comments

The Middle East: The Arab League, Syria, the US, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and China 

Some of my conclusions:

The Arab League acted like an Arab League. Lots of faith in the impact of their actions (publicity is reality), most members believe countries must follow their own path. Life is not considered important, especially if the dead are not members of your tribe. An international perspective is not a primary, let alone a secondary priority.

Syria also reacted the way Arab cultural influences impact behaviors, personal or national. Syria promises whatever you want to hear that will get you out of their face. The Arab culture sees no shame in changing their behaviors regardless of a promise, contract, or treaty.

Those working with Arab businessmen (and the vast majority are men) know that a contract is only the beginning of the negotiation. A contract is only followed/adhered to, if you are in the room with your Arab “customer”, “supplier”, associate, or partner.

You need only to look at the cultural influence of the Nomadic way of life (move when resources are used up, no loyalty to an area, or maintaining buildings (or building them to last a 100 years ) because we’ll be out of here before anything wears out). There is no loyalty to place, only loyalty to tribe.

Syria is not in the least concerned with world opinion. Nor are they afraid there will be Western intervention. Russia and China have too much to lose to approve UN military action. The Syrian leaders are from a very small religious minority. The history of that group   makes it obvious they will destroy anyone not of their religious belief. They will destroy all populations without remorse, guilt, shame . . . it will not weigh on their conscience at all.

The West pretends not to get this. But read the government publications describing Arab culture. Read war reports. Read, watch, listen to “honest” reporters. In fact the vast majority of the “Western” populations are unaware of the reality because of the influence of those who a) benefit from “wars” and b) those who have to justify the death of soldiers sent into area where the only result is failure for the initiative, and death for the soldiers.

But . . . just because you ignore the facts does not mean they go away.

Americans keep repeating the same actions. Ignorance of the enemy’s culture. (Japanese – WWII, Vietnamese, 1960’s youth, Iran in 1979, Iraq in both “wars”, Libya in the 1980’s, Russia in the cold war. and Putin in the present,, Syria, and in the near future, China (and potentially India). It is not that the US doesn’t have the experts . . . they just ignore, demean, and blame them . . . McCarthy got rid of the China experts in the 1950’s who were experts on Vietnam. McNamara and body count statistics during the Vietnam War (see the Best and the Brightest).

Coming out of the Vietnam War the experience of culture ignorance did not change their approach. Americans were still confused about the factors bringing about the Bosnian horror. They did not get the Iran revolution, or the reason Sudam Hussein continued to rule Iraq despite behaviors that were abhorrent to Western sensibilities.

Rules of thumb are rarely “always” accurate. “Russia needs strong dictators because it is a nation of uneducated serfs who need to be controlled by providing them with certainty despite hardship and poverty.”

In the Middle East, the same is applied to Iraq. Iraqis need a strong dictator. The citizens need to follow, want to follow, accept being lead . . . with certainty if not with compassion. That is a reality that exists deep in the psyche of the population. Ignore it is you wish . . . but just take a look at Iraqi history.

Americans are a people who have only a hammer, and as a result everything begins to look like a nail. “Traditional military methods won’t work because of . . . “forget that, we have the best army in the world . . . we’ll make it work. Right!!!!

Russia whether because the ideals of communism were defeated by ideals of capitalism, or because “capitalist greed” exemplified by the majority of the highest level bureaucrats and politicians, finally made the population “rebel.” (A pattern that began in Poland.) (And . . . perhaps being followed in the reasons for the Arab Spring.)

Russia over the last 10 years has been in the pursuit of their lost reputation, power, and superpower status. Did Putin create the desire for change, or did the desire for change create Putin? There is a reaction to him in 2012 but I am to convinced his replacement will change Russia’s desire to recapture its superpower status. I don’t think the west “gets”  Russia any more than it gets other countries.

I think Americans in particular get lost when a civilization is based on a mellinium or thousands of years of history: China, Japan, Vietnam, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Syria. Perhaps all “new” nations are susceptible to this blindness; think of the horrible actions toward the aboriginal populations of Canada, the US, Australia, Colonial powers towards their conquests, and on and on. I know there must be a connection to evolution.

5. China: The book China came out in 2005. Amazing statistics.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang puts the history of China in the 20th century into perspective only upstaged by her book Mao, the Unknown Story.

China is different from anything Western countries and especially the United States have ever experienced. There is a power ethic so deeply entrenched in fear and subjugation that nothing “rational” by Western standards will ever come to understand.

And like so many other dictatorships based on thousands of years of cultural history, and an inward homogeneity that rewards subservience in return for stability, China will act only in ways that benefit China. And they will tell you anything you want to hear. And they will invest in America (China owns America!), but they will have no compulsion to act “ethically” when it comes to calling in the “loans” they made to America (any more that the greed of the Wall Street Brokers allowed for ethical behavior towards their debtors).

There is nothing to be said about Afghanistan that would be different. Everyone knows the Americans/West will make any difference whatsoever. The Russians learned . . . and left. The Americans don’t understand the culture. The Americans have a hammer looking for “nails” that don’t exist. The Americans throw body after body into the country’s “killing fields”, using hyped up patriotism to deflect the reality of the tragedies of war. Americans, once over the age of 30(?) seem oblivious to the reality of senseless death.

Okay, enough of this. I would bet that should a survey be conducted with the CIA, media reporters, and knowledgeable and real experts, asking what Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Syria will look like in 5 years, not one would say stability in any way similar to the American version of democracy, will exist.

I really want to care about this. I really want to NOT be cynical. Yet, even if i am just little bit right, what happens? I’m 60 . . . chances are I won’t see what happens over the next 20 years, let alone 50 years. Yet, I have children and grandchildren, so I must care.

Certainly I need help to make any difference.

And suggestions?