Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Let us start in the A/L class" - Preventing plagiarism at the university level

Although Plagiarism is a word of great importance at the higher education institutions like universities, it is still unheard and not given proper attention at the school level. To be exact, most of the Advanced Level students don't even know what plagiarism means and the teachers think it is simply copying and amazingly, as experienced by one of the students in a leading girls' college in Kandy, she was praised by a teacher for writing a good essay on Al-Qaeda with the help of the internet sources! The situation being thus, there’s dire need to address this issue with more attention at the school level. The lack of the attention at the school level, I think, is one of the main reasons for the university students being caught plagiarizing papers. On the other hand, the unawareness of the issue at the school level makes them think about the issue in a lighter weight.

With the advancement of the communication technologies, the internet has become the information super highway and for the plagiarist, internet is an ocean full of fish. Most of the state universities now provide free internet access to students and some even have wi-fi hot spots where students are allowed to use internet through their laptops, mobile phones etc. This blend of technology, unawareness and mental problems such as stress provide a good breeding ground for the plagiarists. However, prevention is better than cure. Today’s A/L students are tomorrow’s university students.

So, I talked to randomly selected A/L students from different schools in Kandy area to find out the reasons and grounds for the plagiarism done by university students.

Most tend to think that plagiarism means merely copying from one place and placing the text as if it was originally penned by you. This would have been enough to describe plagiarism in the 19th century when there were fewer sources to copy from. But today, we are living in a society covered with information so that it is possible to take extracts from different sources and mix it together to get a perfect answer for question, a perfect research paper or even compose a new music track. Within this context, the original author of the work doesn't get the respect he deserves instead; people who copy the material get the credit, wealth and respectability from the society if they are not caught. In considering all these factors, which was founded in 1996 with a mission to help people all over the world prevent plagiarism and restore integrity to written work. The organization is one of the Internet's predominant anti-plagiarism resources for educators and students alike. They identify following as acts of plagiarism:

- turning in someone else's work as your own

- copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit

- failing to put a quotation in quotation marks

- giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation

- changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

- copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not.


Plagiarism done with regard to books can be a tiresome experience for the students. However, any person who’s acquainted with World Wide Web knows how easy to do all the above acts when information about almost all the subjects in the world is right in front of your finger tips.

Internet Related plagiarism

The advancement of the technology, as mentioned before has paved the way to make world wide web the biggest collection of information available to the human kind. But the wide variety of information and the easy access facilitate one of the biggest crimes in the modern world; stealing ides of others. For instance, copying a web page of information to a word document and writing a paper within an hour is simply a matter of few key strokes and mouse clicks in today's world. The worst part is not coping and pasting but not mentioning the original author. Most of the university students who do this don’t mention the work cited because they want to pretend that it is their own work. They have a false notion that a mix up of ideas and texts from different or isolated web sites has the ability to mislead the lecturer. However, whether the lectures are deceived or not, this type of students tend to face many problems at the employer or on the post graduate level education.

And sometimes the employers complain that the new graduates who come out of the universities have no writing skills at all.1 Thus, the issue of plagiarism creates havoc in the society and I think, analyzing the issue and preventing it at the school level is a good solution to the problem of plagiarism among university students in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan A/L students and the internet

One facet of the interaction of the Sri Lankan Youth with the internet was revealed recently the president banning access to web sites with adult only content. Other than that, most of the youths use internet to share files, do social networking, and to download various types of files starting from simple graphics to operating systems. But the most important fact to note is that the percentage of girls who use internet is lower than that to the number of boys

According to the report titled “Census Department Measures ICT Penetration into Households” published by the Census Department of Sri Lanka, 8.2% of all households in Sri Lanka now possess a personal computer and Internet facility is available in 2.4% of households but5.0% can use internet without assistance. It indicates that 2.6% of the population use internet from internet cafes or from E nansalas etc. Speaking of the internet cafes in Sri Lanka, most of them are internet booths where anybody can watch porn movies at ease.(Wijaya Pariganaka, ) In this situation, boys have the tendency to hang out in the internet cafes but only few school girls can be found in a cafe. On the other hand, as I have observed, the condition of the internet cafes are such that a girl cannot go alone there as they are filled with all sort of loiterers around the street. Therefore, the number of girls who use internet is low, but the few who use it try to make it a tool for education as well.

However, the use of internet as an educational aid is subjected to various limitations. For instance, the students who offer subjects in Sihala medium, especially subjects like sinhala, logic, political science, logic etc may find internet a source of no educational value due to the language barrier. For them, internet is not an easy way to access information. They have to take the information and translate them manually to Sinhala in order to use the information in their essays or papers. For them, books are the main source of information.

On the other hand, the small number of students who study in English medium find internet a good source to complete their assignments. When asked from students of different subject combinations, it was found out that the English medium Arts students use the internet most. Most of them are urban students but at the university level, many seem to plagiarize using the internet. Even some of my class mates in the A/L class used to copy from the internet to provide answers for questions and they never cited the web pages. But still, the teachers paid no heed and no accusations followed. Instead, those students were praised and we were asked to read those plagiarized ides. On the contrary, if students are caught coping at the exams, they would punish the students severely and not to mention, some teachers are reported showing no thoughts against copying when the paper was difficult etc. this type of teachers are admired by the students than the teachers who are very strict about coping etc. But in the long run, it causes trivial problems.

In the advanced level class, the students are not educated about the issue of plagiarism, but on close observation, it is found that the students are encouraged to plagiarize in subtle ways. This might be unintentional. However, it should be avoided. For example, imagine a teacher praising a student who has produced a plagiarized essay...the teacher probably would have thought about the content of the essay and have given the grade. This light thought put upon the issue indicates that at the school level, plagiarism is not an issue but just a difficult word for the students to study for the General English course.

Considering all the factors, we have a big challenge ahead of us to prevent internet related plagiarism at the school level; encouraging the majority of the students who do not use internet to use it effectively while taking preventive measures to minimize the students from plagiarizing.

How should we face the challenge?

The department of education started to address the issue of familiarization of the computer to the students in 1983, even before the television made its way to the Sri Lankan masses. However, now, there are computer labs with internet facilities, teachers, a syllabus and a subject called General Information Technology at the Advanced level class.

But still, hardly any student learns the GIT syllabus successfully and has access to computers and internet at school. Most of the schools in Kandy have computer labs with internet facility but unfortunately, they are for teachers to get their work done. Let us imagine that internet will be available to school students one day as the university students now a days have. And then the problem of internet plagiarism will surely penetrate into the school culture as USA is experiencing now. In a study about cheating in high school, 72% of students reported one or more instances of serious cheating on written work (

Thus, I think this has now become a problem which should be solved at the school level before it gets inculcated with the school culture. Teaching GIT and computer ethics alone cannot solve the problem. It should be discussed in the class room openly. According to, most of the students plagiarize because they don't know how to do a proper research, take notes and produce an academic essay of high standard. This happens not only in USA but also in Sri Lanka too. Students wait almost a year after finishing the A/L exam to get into a university and then, upon the admission, the student is asked to write academic essays and assignments. The sudden work load results in mental stress and at the last minute, they turn into internet as a shortcut to complete assignments. Internet is free for them and the education is done in English medium. So, two barriers at the A/L Class are disappeared. And plagiarism happens automatically as they don’t feel that they are violating academic ethics because even at the school level they did the same thing without any repercussions at all.

Prevention of plagiarism

Avoiding plagiarism is a very simple process. If you take an idea from another person’s work, modify it and put in your paper, give the credit of the work to the original author and if you take exact words of somebody, don’t ever forget to put the quotation marks. However, some students show the work cited in a subtle way that a reader is unable to find source. That is also considered plagiarism. So the students should know how to arrange the work cited page. On the other hand, the student should be taught the correct method to write a paper or an academic essay. It is a process which should develop with time and practice. And I think, the best place to start this practice is the Advanced level class as it is the class which decides on a student’s higher education in Sri Lanka. Then, when they come to the university level, they know how to write papers and possibly, they will not have the false notion that they can cheat the lecturers with paper-mill answers.

Work cited

“Advancing Sri Lanka’s Education System through Quality Inputs.” World Bank Report2005

Zobel, Justin “Uni Cheats Racket a case study in Plagiarism investigation” 2003

Amarasooriya, Palitha. “Computer Teachers At Our Schools.” Wijaya Pariganaka Apr. 2007: 6

Amarasooriya, Palitha. “GIT In The Class Room.” Wijaya Pariganaka Apr2005: 8-9

“Census Department Measures ICT Penetration into Households.” Census Department of Sri Lanka 2007

Cole, Sally and Elizabeth Kiss. “What Can We Do About Student Cheating?" About Campus, May-June 2000

Karunathilake, Prageeth. “GIT challenge in the school education.” Wijaya Pariganaka Jul. 2003: 64-65

"Plagiarism Involving Foreign Students Stirs Controversy at Ohio University". Associated Press Aug 16, 2006

Stevens, Betsy.“How satisfied employers are with Graduates Business Communication skills?” ,2000

What is Plagiarism

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