In a city that worships academic achievement, the plagiarism scandal that has befallen Modern College and 23 of its students is an embarrassing episode for Hong Kong academia. The focus has now shifted to the examination authority, after four of the students claimed their teacher had permitted them to cheat on the Diploma of Secondary Education exam.
Educators are in a position to influence their students and must remember they are not merely teaching a curriculum, but a way of life.
They spend eight out of a possible 18 waking hours a day with students, a number that should remind all teachers of their commitment to teaching excellence.
So who should take the blame for the scandal?
All students involved have been denied spots at Hong Kong’s universities, a punishment that is a severe blow to their future prospects. Assuming that the students are telling the truth, the outed teacher should also be penalised for failing to serve as a responsible educator. It is fitting that I refer to the words of Voltaire, or Spider-Man for the superhero junkies: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The most important duty for a teacher is to instil a passion for learning and critical thinking in a student. The daily routine of classes, tutoring and homework can be draining for any student, and it is a challenge to remain engaged if the teacher is merely spewing course-related facts.
Although I am grateful to all of my teachers who prepared me for the final exam, I particularly admire the ones who loved what they did and ignited my excitement to learn and analyse knowledge of any nature.
The Modern College students should not have reached a stage in which they needed to plagiarise if the teacher was properly inspiring and training his students. Even if copying passages from the internet were acceptable, it would still have prevented the development of independent and creative thinking.
Ultimately, it was the teacher’s responsibility to encourage his students to form their own opinions through careful analysis. The world is our classroom, and every experience is an opportunity to learn. This is why teachers must fulfill their role in raising a generation of students that is informed, discerning and thirsty for knowledge.
A careless and apathetic teacher with flawed values can cast an immense shadow upon a student’s life. By tolerating academic dishonesty, the Modern College teacher set an unfortunate example for students to follow, inadvertently conveying that deceit is a feasible option in society. Such thinking can poison students’ minds and set them up for failure.
Although it could be argued that the students should have exercised greater discretion, the incident demonstrates the magnitude of this teacher’s influence. He came from a position of authority and presumed expertise, and in a society that treats tutors as celebrities, it is understandable why students followed his advice, especially since doing so reduced their workload. The students should be given a second chance.
The relationship between teacher and student is that of a master and disciple. The dimensions of the former have been severely constrained in favour of the systematic engineering of eerily similar students.
To all teachers, you are shaping the leaders of tomorrow. Teach not what is needed for a two-hour exam, but for a lifetime of virtue and success.
Jason Cheng is a graduate of Canadian International School and an intern at the South China Morning Post