Plagiarism is an ugly word to speak and spell and not every one understands the meaning of the word.
It refers to writing something which you have copied from another writing and claiming it is yours. It is cheating. It is stealing, plain and simple.
Sadly, we live today in a ‘cut or copy and paste’ world where it is all too easy to find something which says it all for us without us having to write anything creative ourselves.
We do not have to be a linguist at all, in fact.
I can write something in English and then translate it to any language I like using Google Translate.
In fact, why do I need to bother learning another language? I can just use technology to do it for me at the click of a switch on my smartphone.
On the other hand, I might just pay something to write it for me because I do not have the time, energy, knowledge, motivation or desire to do it myself.
The problem of getting a student to write ‘in your own words’ is commonly experienced by every teacher in the modern era and more so in the less developed world in countries like Indonesia where students see no wrongdoing in copying material from someone else.
Imagine you have a class of thirty students which is not uncommon. The teacher assigns a homework for each student to compose a piece in 200-250 words about a folklore legend such as Robin Hood or King Arthur in England or Sangkuriang or Timun Mas in Indonesia.
The teacher might ask the student to produce the homework piece in duplicate, one written and the other typed, perhaps transmitted and monitored by the students on Google Drive.
The teacher will have it in mind, after checking through the homework pieces, for the students to first read the narrative piece of writing, then try to speak it without reading. This unexpected test can be done with either the typed or handwritten version of the homework piece – or both.
Selected students might be asked to read what they have written in class before the homework pieces are evaluated by the teacher.
The likelihood is that the students have collaborated, accessing search engines such as Google and entering keywords on the topic to scrutinise text on one or more websites. They will then ‘copy and paste’ into their homework paper and will be even so bold as to handwrite it all out, if the handwriting homework is also required.
Not all the students can be so nieve or idiotic not to understand that the teacher will realize the similarity or exactness of the homework pieces when they are handed in and checked.
Students at Junior and Senior High School level may be aware of the issue but are oblivious of potential consequences of their wrongdoing and/or simply do not care if there are consequences.
Imagine that it was an important assignment for examination purposes. The consequences could be drastic with the student expelled from the school and the parents possibly fined a money sum.
The teacher would readily know if the student has directly copied from an online source or from a book by the choice of words used and the quality of structural expression.
The teacher will, of course, know the proficiency level of his students in English, more or less.
By asking students to read aloud to the class what they have written, in a way, it does the homework evaluation for the teacher because the student will stumble in his use of words and phrases which he clearly does not understand and which he would not have used if he had written the homework piece ‘in his own words’.
At this point, we could say that if the homework piece turned in by the student was so perfect, then there would be no need for a teacher in class to evaluate it.
Making reference to sources of the material and citations etc is another matter again. If the student has no grasp or concept of his plaguarism, then he will not grasp how and why citations should be used in reference.
Let us take a look at the second issue, that of using Google Translate or another source which directly translate the text into the required language without any action required by the student.
The comfort of access to the internet and the presence of a smartphone, laptop, computer or tablet makes the task all so easy, whatever that task is. No effort needs to be expended to achieve the final result.
So the teacher asks the student in class to write something in English. It might be a one hundred word summary or report. It might be an email, letter or just a simple twitter feed.
Students the world over are encouraged to learn English because English, it is said, is the gateway to a better life and future. That may be true.
These students have been exposed to learning English at varying levels of education for at least twelve years or more starting from playgroup through high school until reaching College and/or University, yet their level of English comprehension remains only at the basic level.
This means that the majority of the students do not have the level of comprehension or the academic competence to meet the requirements of the task assigned by the teacher. These students also lack confidence because of their ignorance of the English language.
So what happens in class and in full view of the teacher is that the students will write what they want to say in their own language and then translate it into English. The inaccuracy of the translation will be obvious to any teacher.
The student should have a sufficient competence in English after so many years and be prepared to look up words in a dictionary but not translate the whole thing.
Such wrongdoing by a student challenges the professional integrity of the teacher and the ethics which motivate him to teach his students.
Students have become so conditioned in the modern era as a technological native that using means such as Google Translate has become the norm.
It is only much later in their academic life that students who aim higher with their ambitions falter in their progress as a result of this mindless academic dishonesty.
This brings me then to the third issue about ‘in your own words’ and that is hiring someone to write the material for you.
The internet is overloaded with people who are only too willing to do your homework for you at a price. For many, the price to be paid is not relevant and it is paid regardless.
Students feel no guilt or shame in having asked a third party to write the homework piece or indeed disgust in being reprimanded by the teacher or perhaps even by the school.
Not everybody wants to learn English. Not everyone is a good linguist. Not everybody needs to learn English. Where a lack of incentive comes in and the student is still required to do the task, the simplest task might be for somebody else to write it on their behalf and do not worry about the consequences.
The tragedy of students not writing in their own words is that they are cheating themselves and nobody else.
Things may have gone too far. The whole world is expected to learn and speak English but the whole world does not want to. There is a sort of cultural rebellion against taking it to the next level.
Students must be encouraged at all times to write in their own words and writing it by hand is just as important as creating and editing it on a word processing device, if not even more so, in order to develop and express creativity.
Education is looking for a lead in how academic honesty can be morally applied in every classroom and the mindset of the student can be addressed.