Any education system aims at providing learners with a requisite learning experience that can be applied in different context and help them grow into worthy citizens with high moral values and integrity. However, the prevalent breach of academic integrity is endangering education at all levels.
An introspection of the ancient Indian education system shows the old Gurukul or Ashram culture where children of all ages were trained for meeting different challenges of life under the guidance of honest and committed Gurus or Acharyas i.e. teachers who also acted as their role models and the value system as prevailing in these temples of learning was engrained into its pupil.
No doubt, the present structured education system has yielded schools, colleges and universities. However, the pious intent of imparting education to roll out responsible and competent educated human resource cannot be accomplished in true spirit unless the integrity of all components is not ensured.
Among different contributors to the education system, the most critical ones are the educators themselves. They are perceived as extraordinary human beings by the society as their conduct affects the education system directly and eventually the future of the society - the learners.
The menace of copying
The present education system has pros and cons which are being identified and corrected as per the need from time to time. However, the country’s education system is reeling under the menace of copying not only by students during examinations, but also the educators themselves, which is more worrisome.
An introspection into the copying by the students will indicate several leads which point towards poor quality of teaching – learning processes and thus creating compelling circumstances before the learners to succeed in examination by any means, including copying, paper leakage etc.
Copying by students can be suitably confronted through different regulations. Also, the actions against them act as deterrent against copying by students but the real solution to this challenge lies in improving the quality of teaching-learning process which actually depends upon the quality and integrity of educators.
Unethical practices by teachers
In addition to the copying by students, the acts of copying by teachers are ringing alarm bells. There have been several instances where the acts of copying by teachers have been reported - teachers who resort to such unethical practice with the aim of enhancing their research output to get upward elevation. Sometimes such acts by teachers have been viewed quite seriously by the academic administration of the respective institution and the education regulators of the country, even leading to the loss of their jobs.
However, it is seen to have significant subjectivity involved in it and the integrity and concern for quality of the academician administering the institution decides the degree of seriousness accorded to such misconduct.
Creating a pool of believers of unethical practices
Surprisingly, since the last few years there have been news of several Vice Chancellors of different universities involved in plagiarism i.e. copying of someone else’s research work/idea and publishing it in their own name to enrich their credentials which shows nucleation of precarious academic integrity of apex educators. It does not need any special mention that the educators in formal higher education sector are expected to exhibit the highest level of integrity with good moral and ethical values and the same needs to be inculcated into the students interacting them. But such acts of copying by teachers and successes achieved by them in spite of committing unethical acts are likely to be imitated by their students and this will create a pool of believers of unethical practices.
Urgent need for ethical cleansing
Chanakya’s quote that “The teacher could never be ordinary. Both, construction and destruction, belongs to him” reasonably points towards the importance of any teacher in general and the responsibility of those holding apex positions in the education system automatically becomes multiple times more. There is need of immediate cleansing of the higher education system and zero tolerance policy should be adopted in case of any reporting of unethical practices by anyone in the higher education system, especially those at the helm should be dealt with in exemplary manner so that the message for strengthening integrity of education system is loud enough.
This tendency to resort to unethical route for improving the academic and research credentials for upward elevation has been prevailing since quite some time. It is one of the many reasons responsible for the declining education quality. One can easily understand that any person who succeeds in reaching the pinnacle without having actually contributed in knowledge creation, following short cut path generates a school of thought which believes in getting elevation into top role by any means.
The biggest level of fraud
The increase in number of such cases of plagiarism by those holding top positions in education system is highly concerning but it is much more concerning when the reported instance of plagiarism is being managed by deletion of individual’s name in connivance with those publishing and disseminating research outcomes in the form of journals. Such acts of removing the name from the publication need to be viewed very seriously as it is tantamount to the biggest level of fraud by any teacher who is viewed as most pious by the society. It is quite likely that the elimination of evidences of plagiarism may lead to exoneration of the individual from such allegations, while the moot point of having impeccable integrity of a teacher gets dented adversely.
It may be noted that anyone, who is not honest in his/her pursuits when jumps into the role as a teacher and gets opportunity to interact with the students is likely to spoil their values, integrity and thought process.
The question mark
From the education system’s perspective, it is not important whether a teacher in any role when charged with an allegation of committing unethical action gets exonerated or not upon enquiry, but the raising of any such incidence sends wrong signals amongst the learners and puts the question mark upon the whole education system as to how such person get inducted into the system and survive.
It is well known that since the students adapt the value system as practiced and exhibited by their mentors, so the education system of the country needs to be transformed in such a way that those with poor integrity are not made part of formal education system in any situation.
Although, it is a daunting task, it would be extremely necessary for the nation to make its education system free from persons of reported poor integrity. Sometimes it is seen that under such situation when some allegations of breach of academic integrity are reported against any member of academia, then detailed process of enquiry is initiated against such members without putting them aside from their roles, which maligns those regulating these institutions.
It is high time for the policy makers and regulators of the country having the world’s third largest higher education system accord highest degree of sensitivity to such unethical practices and take earliest necessary actions. Sincere initiatives are required to keep such unethical people free from the teacher’s role in the education system. Teachers have to be of impeccable integrity and the same should be exhibited. Not an iota of doubt should be raised against anyone from any quarter as it leads to vitiation of the academic processes and embarrasses the students who gradually lose faith in the education system.
Higher education regulators should come out with stringent enforcement of ethical code of conduct for those who are part of the education system so that any breach of academic integrity pushes them out of the system. Also, those who have been reported having committed plagiarism be punished severely so that every member of academia is compelled to exercise self -restraint from any unethical act and students are taught to hold high integrity.
(Dr Onkar Singh is the founder Vice Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (UP), the first non-affiliating technical University of UP. Currently, he is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur, UP)