Cheating in School: Is it the Norm in Thailand?

Posted by claudio on February 2, 2015 in Teaching in Thailand |

In short … YES!

Cheating in school seems not only omni-present, but also quite accepted. Perhaps even expected.

This morning I read an article in The Nation about allegations that an O-NET observer was ordered by executives to hint answers to students.

'The Nation' reporting on Cheating in School in Thailand

The Nation reports on cheating during O-NET tests

My instant and sarcastic response was “Cheating in School in Thailand? Really???”

If you have taught at any grade level in Thailand, you know that cheating is as much part of the school system as the national anthem during assembly each morning. Sadly so.

Why Is Cheating in School a Problem?

There is a victim when students cheat in school but it isn’t the school or the test administrator. The real victim is the cheating student, because it will ultimately put them at a disadvantage.

Cheating is Unfair to the Cheater

Why do we attend school in the first place? Is it to learn things we need to live a fulfilling life…or is it to learn how to cheat? The answer is obvious, yet by accepting cheating systematically, schools are sending the signal that cheating is okay. Students will thus put more effort into learning how to cheat than learning the things that are later useful in their lives.

Cheating is Unfair to Other Students

Some students are more interested in a subject or they put in more effort studying a subject. Those are the students that usually excel without the need to cheat. When cheating is accepted, it diminishes the accomplishments of those students. They won’t get an opportunity to shine and ultimately may give up their efforts because they view them as exercises in futility.

Cheating Leads to Uncertainty

When students accomplish something on their own, they feel proud. They have certainty that they have learned a subject well. Students who cheat will know that they haven’t even come close to mastering a subject. They can’t be proud and end up feeling uncertain about their skills and knowledge.

Can You Do Anything About Cheating in School?

In your home country, the answer might be relatively simple. But not in Thailand, because cheating is so prevalent. It’s accepted. It’s expected.

It is said that you cannot change a system from the outside. Unfortunately, as a foreign teacher you are on the outside at most schools. Sorry! So should you just lean back, get over your culture shock when it comes to cheating, and ignore it? Although it is tempting, resist the urge to give in too quickly.

Realize that Thailand, and its school system, is changing. Perhaps slower than you would like but there has been subtle progress in just the last few years. I’m optimistic that this change will be accelerated. I’m also convinced that we can foster this change, even as outsiders.

Last year the following image went viral on Facebook and other social networks. It makes me hopeful, because apparently these anti-cheating hats were not mandated by their teacher. Students at Kasetsart University came up with the idea during a discussion about ethics. Although the school felt embarrassed by the photo going viral and has stopped using this method, it proves that some students realize that cheating in school is a problem.

Hats worn by Thai students to prevent cheating in school

Hats worn by Thai students to prevent cheating in school.

What CAN You Do About Cheating in School?

I have found a number of change-agents in every school I have been to. Some of them are young teachers who haven’t been indoctrinated into the system too much. Even though they are still outsiders themselves, they will at one point become part of the system (and hopefully be able to hold on to their ideals). Some of them are seasoned teachers who know that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Talk with those key players. Use the ever increasing global competition in your discussion and how Thais will compare if they mostly learned cheating in school, rather than skills and knowledge. With the ASEAN Economic Community approaching fast, an increasing number of people in Thailand realize that actually acquiring skills and knowledge (as opposed to good grades) is becoming more important than ever.

Also appeal to your students, not a few days before the midterm or final exams, but at the very beginning of and throughout the semester. Make them aware that cheating is only hurting them.

Depending on the level of your students, you might even create an entire lesson plan around the subject of cheating in school. You could use the above photo of the students at Kasetsart University for a writing class or a discussion about the subject of cheating in school. You may not get through to all of your students, but if you just get through to one or two, you have helped move the needle in the right direction.

What Do YOU Think About Cheating in School?

Is cheating issue in your school? Have you found effective ways to discourage cheating in school? Please leave a comment below, as we all can learn and benefit from each other to make our teaching more effective.




  • David Brown says:

    cheating is encouraged where there is inequality of opportunity and assessment

  • Michael X says:

    Yes, sadly it’s the norm, but I don’t allow it in my English classroom at university. I also fail people, which is unusual in Thailand, but have the full support of my head teacher and manager, who is Thai.

  • Michael C. says:

    I’ve seen the Thai English teachers, when they have to pass an online English test to maintain their state certification, they have the smartest one of them sit at the computer all day and pass everyone’s test in their name, and they’ll even cover that teacher’s classes so she can sit there and spend the day cheating instead of doing her job of teaching. That makes it a little more difficult to come down as hard on kids who are certainly not doing anything worse than that. It is interesting that there is not the same mutual understanding between students and teachers as there is in the West that cheating is in fact wrong. I have taken students aside with their test papers and shown how it is obvious from their answers that they were cheating and there is just no shame or even acknowledgement that, “yeah you caught us, we’re sorry.” It was just like, “Eff you teacher! What do you expect?” Instead of trying harder to catch and discipline the cheaters I just started making it impossible or much more difficult for them to cheat by doing more individual oral quizzes, just give them all something to work on and have the students come up front one-by-one to answer a few problems, or by the end I was making 4 different versions of the same test. It was pretty fun to sit back and watch students confusedly realize that the answers they were stealing from their neighbor did not even apply to the questions on their own test. I also looked forward to handing back any particularly oblivious student’s test and saying, “You know stealing the answers from your neighbor wouldn’t be such a bad idea, if you were both actually taking the SAME TEST!!” Well admittedly that way of doing it is kind of a way of going around the issue, instead of actually addressing the behavior, but if that is what you are going to try to do in Thailand that is definitely a huge bone to pick!

    • Claudio says:

      Thanks so much for this comprehensive reply. Your experience teaching in Thailand clearly shows. I like how you create four different versions of your tests. Although it’s additional work for you, it makes cheating nearly impossible. Great and inspiring idea!

  • Peter says:

    Hello, I am new to this site. I have been a Teacher & mentor in Thailand and Asia for over 10 years teaching Science Math English Health & Conversational English leading to everyday fluency.

    I was reading the article re-cheating in class, and in tests. Unfortunately this starts at a very early age. This is also encouraged by the Thai teachers. I have often heard just copy. The law does not help either, because you cannot fail at elementary schools period. Every student must pass. The foreign teacher has to adjust his or her examination scores to comply.

    To be honest this method robs the teacher to teach with efficiency. The only way to teach effectual is not to allow students to copy both the questions and answers. Ok I get it, sometimes a slower writer has to
    copy questions from a fellow student that’s ok. But the Thai teachers let them and tell them to copy everything.

    Basically all I am saying is, we are on the outside. Sometimes I feel that we are not really liked in Thailand or by a large majority of Asian Teachers. We are just tolerated.

  • […] The last picture on the above collage shows students in Thailand, wearing hats to prevent them cheating in school. It is reported that ‘Cheating in school is not only omni-present, but also quite accepted. Perhaps even expected&#… […]

  • […] The last picture on the above collage shows students in Thailand, wearing hats to prevent them cheating in school. It is reported that ‘Cheating in school is not only omni-present, but also quite accepted. Perhaps even expected’. […]

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