(First of two parts)
BOMBARDED with a load of homework and projects under distance learning setup, some students confessed that they resort to participating in online groups where fellow students share and leak answers to various online learning tests, exams and modules.
Over a year into the distance and blended learning setup of the country’s education system under Covid-19 pandemic, the problem of "academic dishonesty" ballooned, leaving the question: Is this a reflection of poor study habits of this generation’s students or a symptom of a failed education system?
Around 7 in the evening, Gia, not her real name, starts to filter all the pending posts by their Facebook (FB) group members.
“I’m the one tasked to screen all the new Facebook users who want to join us as members. I also filter posts from members to make sure that all content is aligned to the nature of our group,” she shared in mixed English and Filipino.
Gia is one of the administrators of the biggest “Online Kopyahan” FB group in the Philippines. It currently has around 193,000 members nationwide.
Members of this group are a majority of students and few parents and guardians. It was created in April 2021 as “Online Tulungan” and was renamed as “Online Kopyahan” in September. At present, the group retained its original name, Online Tulungan.
“Eventually, the community grew bigger and it is entirely because a lot of students want to seek help from their fellow students because they are struggling,” Gia, who is currently a senior high school student, added.
A quick search on FB using #OnlineKopyahan and #OnlineTulungan, one can immediately see that there are several groups of the same function, all with over hundreds and thousands of members.
College instructor Alvin Aligato in Mati City, Davao Oriental is aware of these groups. While he has no knowledge if one of his students is involved in these activities, he observed that some are guilty of cheating or academic dishonesty.
“I always have written activities for my NSTP (National Service Training Program) students. I asked them to write an essay and reflection on a topic. Some of my students have the same content for their pieces. Worse, there are really others who copied almost everything, from words to construction. The only difference is the sequence, which is funny because some exchange the conclusion to intro, vice versa. It doesn’t make sense,” Aligato said.
For Mati City-based public high school teacher Twinkle Pearl Ardiente, academic dishonesty is not only happening online under the blended learning setup.
“It’s also true offline. I know some of my students meet to answer their exams together. I’m certain of this because it’s very evident in their answers,” she said.
Ardiente clarified that studying in small groups, for as long as health protocols are observed, is highly recommended as it helps students be motivated more in learning. Sharing and copying answers is another story.
Eliza (surname withheld), a Grade 11 student in General Santos City, told SunStar Davao that they share and compare answers with her close friends who happened to be in the same grade level.
She emphasized that they only compare answers after doing it separately.
“We do not copy each other’s answers. We compare, especially for our performance tasks, we check among ourselves to refrain from duplicating one’s layout or design, especially that we are using a free template on Canva,” the 17-year-old student said.
Canva is a graphic design platform used to create social media graphics, presentations, posters, documents and other visual content.
'Too much' academic work
Senior High School Student Ken, not his real name, who is one of the members of the Online Tulungan FB group, told SunStar Davao that they are given by their teachers multiple assignments and projects in all his subjects weekly.
He is a consistent honor student and admitted that he is pressured to maintain his academic standing as he does not want to disappoint his parents and teachers. However, overwhelming and piling up academic works got a hold of him, pushing him to resort to “online kopyahan.”
“Noong face-to-face kaya naman po but iba ang effect sa online lang. Kaya ko naman pero dahil sabay-sabay halos lahat ng subjects tapos nag-aabot ang deadline, I couldn’t handle it anymore. Natatakot ako na kapag di ko nagawa lahat mababagsak ako kaya nakatulong talaga sa aking yung online group,” the consistent-honor-student admitted.
(I can handle all these in a face-to-face setup, but online classes have a different impact on me. I believe I can do all the performance tasks and projects, it is just that I need more time. I couldn’t do all of the projects from all subjects all at once within a very short period of time. I’m afraid I’ll fail, that is why I sought help from this online group)
But he clarified that he only copied answers from the group for Mathematics-related subjects.
Bayanihan or Kopyahan
Gia was convinced that they are doing the education system in the Philippines a favor.
“It is something our officials failed to address. We created this group out of good intention because we understand how students like us feel during this crucial time. We just really wanted to help the students and parents,” she said.
She also highlighted that all students who shared their answers in the group were done voluntarily. She described that the group is becoming an effectively extended arena of learning for struggling students.
“We get to know more people and build more friendships and connections in the group. In fact, we enjoyed learning on this platform, studying becomes more fun and effective because of the sense of community that we get in the group,” she explained.
Gia also shared that many parents also appreciated their initiatives. Some parents found it a relief that they no longer need to attend the assignments and projects of their children after a long tiring day at work.
“Learning really is difficult nowadays and many of the Filipino students do not have the financial capacity to hire tutors or do research online due to lack of budget to register for internet connection. The online groups serve as their option because these are accessible and free,” she said.
“Ang point po namin is to help one another. Ma-enjoy ang pagiging estudyante sa gitna ng pandemya at makatulong,” the "Online Tulungan" founder added.
In September, the Department of Education released a statement condemning the emergence of these online groups promoting academic dishonesty. It added that it has contacted social media companies to ban online groups used by students to share answers on learning modules.
“We are now exhausting all possible means to put a stop to these activities. We have already sought the assistance of social media companies to ban these groups and prevent similar attempts of academic dishonesty that promote laziness, irresponsibility, and instant gratification,” DepEd said in a statement.
The Philippine National Police (PNP)-Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG), for its part, also pledged to support the education department’s move on the matter by investigating reports on alleged online cheating of students during distance learning.
Over two months since the released statement, DepEd has yet to give an update about their coordination and investigation.
DepEd-Davao Region Spokesperson Jenielito Atillo told SunStar Davao that coordination and investigation are still underway.
“The coordination is still ongoing with the social media giants and other concerned government agencies like National Bureau of Investigation and PNP because they have capacity to look into and dwell on this problem. As of now, we haven’t received any official reports and information from the central office,” he said.
Atillo underscored that this serious matter needs a comprehensive and holistic approach hence the very careful investigation of the concerned agencies.
“Our last update, they just wanted to be very careful on this because this is a sensitive topic. DepEd understands that this is a serious problem that needs a comprehensive and holistic approach,” he added.
SunStar Davao also reached out to Meta’s Facebook Philippines through email to comment on the issue but the social media giant has not issued a statement or given an update.
Meanwhile, apart from the online groups, another issue about academic dishonesty that also needs equal attention is the proliferation of "academic commission services," where students pay others to do their academic obligations.
(Read more of this report in Part two)