Confessions of a former Algerian pupil who’s never cheated

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I am not sure how to introduce this post for it is going to be the first personal one I write on this blog (more may follow if the views number is equivalent to those of my previous posts). I thought of speaking about the Algerian education system and its flaws, the current “basmala” controversy which is but one of the many controversies surrounding the Algerian education department and Nouria Benghabrit, the minister. I also considered commenting this past Baccalaureate scandal with the now traditional cheating episodes and all the useless measures taken by the government to prevent them (including internet nation wide total or partial shut-down). That would be an apt introduction for a post about me not cheating when I was a pupil but that would be a too long introduction. So let’s keep it at this and go right to the main topic 🙂

So yes my dear readers I never cheated in class. I’ve spent almost two decades studying and I haven’t cheated a single time. Not even when I was in the CPGE and cheating for homework was an accepted tradition (archivage). I hear you saying, “so what? Why make a post about it?” The thing is I almost cheated once and this is the story I want to tell you. You still don’t care? Oops 🙂

Before I relate the story, I have to tell you that I’ve always been a good pupil with excellent grades at school which I could get without even studying too much. I watched TV for as long as I wanted and played football as much as I liked. I never spent a night studying and I never attended private lessons. I remember being very bored during the days they gave us to prepare for the baccalaureate exam as my friends were all busy attending their private lessons and there was nobody with whom I’d hang out. This is to say that I didn’t need to cheat and I was/still am against cheating; it is to me a matter of honesty and pride at the same time. I remember when I was in primary school, I wasn’t the kind to refuse to help comrades during the exams (I hated that kind of smart-arse pupils) but I wanted my classmates to try and work hard. I therefore helped during the exam whomever needed it on the condition that they’d help me too. I obviously didn’t need help but I pretended that I didn’t know this or that question and asked for assistance in exchange for my help in what they did really not know.

Now, many years later, I am not quite proud of it but it makes me laugh at myself. Another thing which I am not proud of and which doesn’t make me laugh is the story I am going to tell.

It was during the first or second quarter of eighth grade. I was revising for the next civic education exam. The program was very boring and I had to memorize so many things about the Algerian state, its components, laws, etc. And I am one interested in everything around me but when I am bored there’s just nothing I could do about it. So I obviously couldn’t memorize everything and I had the feeling that that very topic would be part of the exam. So I did like most of my classmates, I took a very small piece of paper and I wrote down the bullets I couldn’t memorize and put it in my pocket; I was ready to use it if need be.

The next day, before the exam started, our English language teacher who was tasked to watch us asked us all to switch seats (for those who hid their secret papers in their chairs/tables) and empty our pockets. Some did and others said their pockets were empty. I was among them. But the teacher wasn’t naïve so he asked us to move aside and started searching us and believe me it wasn’t like the IAEA and UN inspectors searching Iraqi facilities for WMD, the teacher uncovered all the pupils’ cheating weapons. And when it was my turn to be searched, my teacher said “not you”. One pupil complained and said that it wasn’t far, that if I wasn’t to be searched then no-one should. The teacher didn’t want to hear it, he told the class that he trusted me.
I cannot describe my feeling back then, I don’t think I felt that same shame ever. It was much bigger than the shame I’d have felt had he searched me and found my paper.

The story ends this way: We had the exam and my feeling was confirmed for we had a question about the lesson I didn’t learn and, despite the opportunities I had, I didn’t use my little sheet of paper and I had a round zero on that question. But I was happy and this was the first and last time I thought of cheating.

This blog’s name is not MnarviDZ yahki hyatou (“tells his life” for the non Algerian amongst you) so the point is obviously not just to share this cute (yes I am past my shame now and I think it’s cute) story with you. Let’s think a little bigger.

I’ve got my idea on why I refuse to cheat. The reasons or say the compass I use is simple but its layers/components are deep and complex. And everyone have got their own compass. In Algeria, school is an accepted tool contributing to the construction of a child’s compass by instilling some values which are deemed important in forming the citizen as defined in the Algerian law (08-04, 23 Jan. 2008). Among other things, Islamic education together with civic education have it as their main objective. But then, why do we have more and more people cheating in the baccalaureate exam? Why do the morals and ethics taught in these two subjects fail to reach the children’s core?

I’ll try to answer these questions, and some more, in my next posts and I’ll start by telling you why I did find civic education lessons boring.


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