The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cheating in examinations: how common is it?

Today, I asked a small group of non-Singaporean Asians whether they had ever cheated in an exam. Refreshingly, the gave honest answers. Two out of three confessed that they had, in fact, cheated in an exam. I shall focus on what one of them said.

A Chinese mainlander had not only cheated in an exam, but had done so throughout her academic career at University. Not only had she cheated but she was positively enthusiastic about doing so: "It is SO exciting a feeling!", she gushed several times in the course of her account. She was thrilled to cheat.

She told of how, in her first year exams at University, "everybody cheated". Bizarrely, their cheating was a co-ordinated effort: they had devised a method of doing so that was moderately discreet (which I won't share, lest I provoke cheating by some of my readers!) - and ALL of them used the same method. One would have thought that the invigilators would have noticed that everyone in the room was wearing special clothes...but no, they didn't.

The following year, their cheating methods evolved. It involved an object which all had on their desks and which the rules of the exam did not expressly forbid from being brought in. However, this object was not what it seemed and it had been doctored to contain a lot of written information. Again, the whole year cheated in this way - and again, it was not noticed, despite the fact that everyone in the room had one of these objects on their desk.

Indeed, having listened to her account, the strangest thing of it is that no-one appeared to notice what they were doing. Perhaps, then, this is only an appearance and the academic staff are well aware of what is going on, but simply don't care.

"Why do you cheat?", I asked her with a judgement free tone.

"Because we have no choice."

"Why no choice?"

"Because if we fail, we would have to do the year again and pay the fees again and it is very expensive. Sometimes we won't be able to graduate."

So it was all about ensuring a pass, no matter what the method. Dishearteningly, she claimed that everyone in her year, at University in China was cheating. So, in that sense, every degree won, was falsely obtained. It makes me wonder, therefore, at the true level of skill - or lack thereof of all these students, when all of them felt that they had to cheat. Perhaps China's academic supremacy is a mirage of sorts - perhaps they are not as good as one might suppose.

In my experience, no one of any real talent needs either to cheat, or feels a need to do so. They know that their gift will take them through. These Chinese students didn't feel that - which leads me to question their talent.

It was sobering to watch her describe her experiences of cheating. Firstly, there was such detail in her accounts of the methods used that it was clear that she was telling the truth in having direct personal experience of the situation. Secondly, her enthusiasm for cheating was such that it was clear to me she would cheat in any and all situations in life, in which there was opportunity for gain and risk of being caught. She was a thrill seeker, and risk taker of the rule breaking kind. It gave her a "rush" to flirt with the danger of being caught doing something she shouldn't. It struck me that that kind of mind is not far from being a criminal by choice.

I have heard many accounts that cheating is common in China - but I hadn't known, until this conversation, that, in the view of these students, at least, that "everyone does it". How common is cheating in examinations in your culture or society, wherever you are? Is it an isolated problem or does it occur en masse? Comments please.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:35 PM 


Blogger Miao said...

I find it quite unbelievable that every single student in the entire cohort cheated. Could she be exaggerating? Perhaps only she and her small group of friends regularly cheated (that would explain why the invigilators did not notice), but she decided to malign others as well, so that she could defend herself by saying, "Oh, but the whole school was doing it anyway!" Not that I think it's a valid defence, but some people think that the severity of their own mistakes is somehow lessened when more people are also guilty of the same faults. Because she had no talent, she wanted to make it seem as if all her peers had no talent as well.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think i read in the ST a few weeks ago about such cases in China. Apparently, many have gone high tech, with some using hidden ear pieces for communications, as well as bribery to get the papers beforehand or even paying undergraduates to do the papers.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have been reading your blogs since last month and have been noticed that you show hatred towards Chinese and Singaporean People and their countries. You insist that they are jealous, greedy, spiteful and now that they are cheaters according to what you heard 1 person say.
You also seem to have many complaints about living in Singapore. Why do you even live there? you are a foreigner and the lifestyle does not have to suit you . Why dont you go back to Great Britain where it would suit you better?
And besides i thought this was a blog about Ainan going by its name and not your complaints on Asia. There haven't been any posts on him in months!!
Don't take me wrongly, I am just saying that you should concentrate on Ainan as the blog is about "The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy" and not on what seems to be your hatred.

3:56 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Well, Miao, I wasn't there to verify her story, but she has been very frank in conversation with me, over the past few months, so I have no reason to doubt her. What she was describing was an organized, en masse cheating. Basically, she depicted a culture of cheating in her cohort.

I know it sounds incredible, but it is easy to see how it could come about. If some cheat, the others would feel under pressure to do so, too, to keep up...otherwise they would lose out in relative terms, so all would then end up cheating.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

re. High Tech.

Yes. From what she said, their cheating became more sophisticated each year, as their experience in doing so, grew.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. hatred.

I have absolutely no hatred towards anyone. You have read my blog wrongly.

All I am doing, is reporting what I was told. For your information, it was not ONE Chinese person who told me that they had cheated...but two out of three people in the room. Furthermore, Chinese exam cheating is so well known (though apparently not to you) that it has been repeatedly reported in the world's newspapers in recent years. The stories have mainly concerned the high tech methods (eg hidden earpieces) that have been used.

It is true that there has been less on Ainan in recent times...but I have felt that a diversification of content would better reflect the life we lead here in Asia. You may not like what I write, but many people do appreciate it.

There will be more on Ainan at an appropriate time.


9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been a commonplace saying amongst the general populace (including Chinese Singaporeans who admittedly, themselves) towards Chinese (irregardless PRC) at large, which goes:

"The only straight thing about us (Chinese) is our hair."

I have no hatred towards anyone. In fact, I have Chinese running in my ties. My point is this:

Given the light of today's bent situation, the Chinese are immense in their own sets of fears, loss and relationship woes, that they become losers of their own morals and minds. And I am only sharing these from my only experiences and exposure - my own workplace.

In an office where I had worked for some time (a pretty big organistion here and I shouldn't name), it was most shocking to know, not one, but quite a handful Singaporean ladies, mostly married, some even mothers, who willingly participate in sexual activities with their working counterparts, in their privacy and even their offices. At times, in the luxury of their own apts, while the husbands and children are away, obviously.

I came to know about the entire cans of worms after this colleague of mine, who have been married for more than 5 years with one toddler, 'wanted to explore' (in her own words) with me even though she knows I have someone. I flirted along (up to the brink point where I had to deny), that she got so furious, wanted me removed from my job, by every means.

Needless to say, we both were dealt with, separately. I am transferred to another dept. but what's even sadder is (to me but not her), she lost her marriage, at the expense of keeping her job. When later, I asked her how is her verdict going, this Sg. Chinese woman just replied, "First, I divorced. Then I slept with that Indian to get away with it."

And she's not the only one, doing this.

FYI, this is no backward, cheating Chinese mainlander, but an intelligent cheating Singaporean tertiary holder, not a junior staff, but a mother.

Who is the greater cheater? I don't side Chinese mainlanders, neither too, Singaporean Chinese but I still think, the ones who are the biggest cheaters, are not those who cheats exams, but those who cheats, their own love.

Singaporean Chinese do so, without remorse. What will be the consequence is something everyone should think about.

As for me, I am soooo glad I didn't pursue anything with her, though she's a sex bomb. **pun.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Anon at 12.20 pm.

You have raised a very serious issue...and one that, in many ways, has more dire consequences than the type of cheating I have written of.

What is worrying is that, in your experience, this situation is not uncommon. I wonder how "fun" they will think it when they bring home an STD, perhaps an incurable one, as a present for their suffering spouses? That would be quite a way to bring their primary relationships to an end.

The worst thing about this, of course, is that the children suffer the fall out. The outcomes for broken families are well known to be less hopeful than for stable families. Perhaps this promises many problems for Singapore in future.

Thanks for your comment.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes Mr. Cawley, I think I did raise a serious issue. But that is only because you emphasized the thrill the cheaters (the mainland chinese students you spoke with) got by doing so. It is the 'thrill' that they found which made it more serious, in my opinion, than one who does so out of desperation. Hence me raising this. I see not much, if not no difference at all with those I met who cheated on their love/spouse/families. They, the ones I met, did so for the same 'thrill' otherwise they wouldn't even toy with it in the first place.

Singaporeans are not uneducated and these ladies even calculated the risks involved that you mentioned. Yet they still do, even crave for such a lifestyle. These corporate singaporean ladies (and the bulk of them Chinese as compared to other races who hadn't had opportunities) will even go as far as having regular affairs, out of their own expense. I chanced not one or two, but more than my fingers can count.

Now, if you read one shocking news recently, contrary to your knowledge of chinese mainlanders students being cheaters, nowadays you get singaporean chinese teachers who cheated their own underaged students into sex.
While she just got away with a small, miserable prison term, I felt the parents should fight for more. Somehow, everything went hushed. Problems? Not quite. Dysfunctional perhaps.

It's interesting to live in Singapore just for the sake of experiencing the future Singapore turns out to be. An interesting place with interesting species.

Thank you... I'll try to keep up with your blog!

7:49 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are right to identify a common personality trait at work between the exam cheaters and the relationship cheaters: they are both thrill seekers.

I am glad you enjoy my blog. Thanks for your kind comment.

8:42 PM  

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