Plagiarism among Malaysian students


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1. the
unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of
another author and the representation of them as one’s own original
2. something used and represented in this manner.

The whole hoolabaloo over plagiarism currently in the Malaysian news is really nothing new, except for the fact that the ones caught plagiarizing now are the teachers not the students. Well, these teachers were once students themselves; if they plagiarised as students, and got away with it, why wouldn’t they do it again as teachers?

Back in 2003, a bunch of Malaysian students were caught plagiarizing while studying for an Australian university. Way back in 1996-2000 when i was in university, it was no different. Without getting too specific, i would pin the rate of plagiarism in my graduating class at about 60%; 6 out of every 10 students would cheat on their assignments, lifting whole chapters, paragraphs and ideas out of textbooks or other sources and try to pass them off as their own. Back then, when the Internet was still relatively young, a favourite method was to sift through the stacks of local nearby universities and dig for old theses and copy those; the idea was that lecturers in your university couldn’t possibly know what students in other universities had written. It was a disgusting practice.

But, you know what, i find it hard to fault them for what they did. Because, if they didn’t do it, they would have failed.

The root cause of the problem is not that students were cheating, that’s just a symptom. The reason for the cheating was because very few had a mastery of the English language to think and write well enough to pass without cheating.

It was so obvious. I had a chance to read a classmate’s assignment on Chaucer one day. It was excellently written, superb analysis, “original” ideas, and in perfect Queen’s English. Impeccable even. The flow of the writing, the seamless movement from one idea to another, the grammar, the diction – outstanding. She was given an “A” for her efforts. I knew there was no way she wrote this herself.

How do i know? Because in her daily conversation, she could hardly string two English sentences together (the same reason why she NEVER volunteered to speak in class); during group sessions, when i would force her to speak by asking her questions directly, her grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation were poor; if you asked her to repeat some of the ideas she wrote by speaking it out loud (this i did, during group sessions), her expression of the same ideas she wrote so eloquently would be garbled and strung together in a bastard child of English and Bahasa Malaysia. Outside of class, she spoke Bahasa Malaysia with the thickest East Coast accent you can imagine, never a word of English. It’s impossible she wrote that paper, and most likely any other English paper for which she graded well. During graduation, she was one of the top students from my class.

She had to cheat, because her English wasn’t good enough to pass otherwise. Why was her English so poor? Because our secondary school system does very little to make sure that students like her are prepared to face a university system where, to do well, you not only need to be able to speak English passably well, you really do need to be able to think in English too.

Have things changed much today? Yes, they have but for the worse. Back in the day, UIA was one of the few local institutions that used English as the medium of education. Today, nearly all the local universities do. But have the students changed? No, they probably haven’t.

My nieces and nephews can hardly put together 3 words in English without fumbling. They hardly watch English cartoons, preferring the Malay-dubbed Japanese shows. They don’t read English books (which is the fault of their parents, not the education system). In fact, they don’t really read much at all.

In 10 years time, these same kids are expected to go to university, AND be able to write 500 page theses in English. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be hilarious. OF COURSE THEY HAVE TO CHEAT. It’s either that, or flunk out.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education both need to shoulder some of the blame of plagiarists in the system. The root of the problem lies with them. If you don’t want people to cheat, you’re going to have to equip them with the skills that will allow them to succeed without cheating.


5 thoughts on “Plagiarism among Malaysian students

  1. Salam Hi Aizuddin, I don’t know whether u still remember or not back in our uni years coz we were hardly in d same classes. U were quite an intimidating character back then hehe.. but I do miss those ‘debt-free’ years. Hmm.. I wonder who would dat ‘she’ be. Could it be d same person i’ve in mind? Anyway, I believe in Karma. We worked hard 4 our degrees n I strongly believe we deserve 2 be who we r 2day ekekeke BTW I really enjoyed reading ur pieces here n I hope it’s not too late 2 congratulate u on ur lovely wife n son. Cheerie!


  2. i just read your article about plagiarism and i am about to add that some of these top students did committed plagiarism with no shame and yet, they scored well in exam. back there when i was at uni, many of them who are graduated with high colour of cgpa are now serving high profile post at international inc.
    good for them to survive that far but nonetheless, the attitude of ‘suka tipu’ will always there, i am completely sure that liar will never enjoy the last piece of cake if not today,later.
    well done for your lovely concern towards plagiarism in uni..hope to see more in matter concerning ‘bribery’ in getting good grades in exam..yikes!!


  3. Hi Aizuddin……i bet u dont remember me at all….we wr classmates for a number of semesters…..but not really (or rather)in speaking terms….i wonder who tht girl could be….ive been trying to recall any East Coast girls tht i befriended tht time….but if im not mistaken….most of my friends, wr clean….including me of course.
    Thanks anyway for ur enlightening article.


  4. Hi,
    Good article.
    It was in the ntv7 news last night about two professors(if I am not mistaken) commented about this issue.
    The culture of plagiarism has been cultivated since primary and secondary schools. They were asked to produce project papers at such a young age but they were never being taught about giving credit to the authors that they have “copy and paste” from.
    So, the victims are the students today. They carried on with the same attitudes to the college or university levels. Never realize that their action is totally unacceptable.
    The real challenge came when they enter into higher education institutions, when they were asked to do references and citations, they will be shocked.
    I believe the real culprit here is the education system. Allow me to ask a question here: What is the purpose of asking a Primary 4 student to do project paper which they don’t even know the big word “PROJECT” means? Who is usually ended up doing their project paper? Their wonderful parents. How did they do it? No idea how to do, copy from the previous year one… the attitude of copy starting from here…
    It really amazed me when I was informed that Primary 4 has to do project paper. I wonder what is the purpose of our government allow this in the syllabus?
    If we want to follow the Western education system? Then, follow thoroughly. They also have project paper in the primary school. But they were not asked to product such a high level of project paper. They were asked to use their imagination (paper cutting, drawing and etc etc etc) to create a self-made project paper.
    My suggestion is they should send some good attitude teachers to be the teaching assistant in the western schools and learn from them.
    Anyway, we pray that our education system will help to build leaders but not only followers. The western education system seldom emphasize on the number of As in the exams but they focus on creativity.


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