Student writing contest becomes an exercise in creative plagiarism

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 June, 2007, 12:00am

A minor literary scandal has broken out. In a creative writing contest for children, 12 out of 200 submissions selected in the first round have been thrown out because of suspected plagiarism.

The annual Chinese-language short story competition, run by public libraries, is intended to promote creativity among pupils in senior primary and secondary schools. Sadly, as an upset panel judge told Ming Pao Daily, some contestants appear to be more creative in their efforts to copy from diverse sources than in creating new material. Plagiaristic techniques include changing the endings and titles of other Chinese publications; simply translating English or Japanese stories; and combining passages from different sources into a single narrative. The most flagrant violation: duplicating the plot of the British hit movie Billy Elliot.

As a parent, I am inclined to give the kids the benefit of the doubt. The supposed plagiarisms sound a lot like what children are instructed to do in routine language exercises.

Despite almost a decade of education reforms, many local schools still focus on rote learning and memorisation of long passages for dictation and examination. Call it creative memorisation. We have trained so many of our kids that way that they probably wouldn't know what plagiarism means.