School Cheating in Italy

School continues to be hell, not just for Rossella, but also for her parents. She scraped through her repeat second year at a new (private, Catholic) school with two academic debits (failed classes) – math and physics, as always.

Being in private school has advantages: last year she had private tutoring in math from a retired teacher with whom she got along very well, and even came close to passing a test or two towards the end of the year. Her regular math teacher was pleased with her progress, and actually in tears at losing her to another teacher this year.

This new teacher appears to be… inexperienced. While discounting for Ross’ prejudices against teachers, and especially math teachers, I do suspect there’s a real problem there. Ross’ story is that the teacher can’t keep control of the class or keep their attention; suggestions from the students on how to do so (e.g., have them do problems on the board, as their previous teacher did) were not heeded for long. So the teacher, out of some spirit of revenge, or because she thinks they should know the stuff, gives them long and complex tests which few of the class have any hope of getting through.

One group of students decided to divide up the test, each doing a part, and then swap their results. Those results were not necessarily correct, but at least they got through the whole test, which is more than most of the students toughing it out on their own were able to do.

I don’t know how they are pulling this off under the teacher’s nose – like most teachers in Italy, she seems to be blissfully unaware of (or deliberately ignoring) the massive cheating that goes on in her classroom.

This has long been a mystery to me. Every child and parent you speak to in Italy is well aware that cheating goes on. Many parents will admit to having done it themselves, and tacitly or explicitly condone their own children’s cheating. So how can the teachers not know that it’s occurring? Perhaps those who choose to become teachers were such academic swots (secchioni – big buckets – is the Italian term) in their own schooldays that they never needed or wanted to cheat, and therefore never learned the techniques, and don’t know what to look out for.

This widespread cheating is damaging in so many ways. In situations like the one with the current math teacher, Ross and others who don’t cheat will fail the test – without the cheating, according to Ross, almost all of the class would have failed that particular test. Were that to happen, the teacher and the principal would (I suppose) have to take note. I’m not a strong believer in bell curves, but if 90% of your class fails, something went wrong that you can’t just blame on the students.

However, those who cheated got higher marks than they otherwise would have, skewing the results. Were the teacher to be confronted on her unsuccessful teaching style, she could point to those kids and say: “Some of them obviously succeeded in learning from me.” They didn’t – they cheated. So the teacher can continue to believe that she’s doing a good job. And Ross, and others, will continue to struggle and fail – honestly.

Last year at this school, a girl close to graduating was discovered to have been cheating on her Greek tests for years. She was not allowed to take the maturita’ (school leaving exam), and was forced to repeat the year. But why did it take her teachers so long to catch on?

Jun 26, 2007 – The math teacher finally caught on when, on the last test of the year, 90% of the tests turned in were identical. Only Ross and one other student (out of a class of ~25) had not cheated. The teacher zeroed out the results of that test and gave another one the following week, which was to Ross’ advantage as she had not done well on the first one. But the teacher did not go back and re-evaluate what had happened on the previous tests, nor did she recalculate anyone’s final grades.

To my mind, there should have been a penalty for the cheaters. All these kids have now learned by experience that cheating is fine, as long as you can get away with it, and there are no real penalties even when you do get caught! And this in a class where the physics teacher had earlier been angry over the degree of cheating he observed on one of his tests, and warned them that if it happened again there would be consequences. But when it happened again with a different teacher, there were no consequences. Again, very poor moral lesson: if one "boss" catches you misbehaving, try it on another.

Situations like this make me just want to go and slap somebody.

Your thoughts and experiences on this?


  1. I’m italian and i studied in Italy and i never cheated but i always loved the thrill of being able to.
    So in several test, written and oral, between 11 yo and 18 yo (Medie e Superiori) i had all was needed to cheat planned but never used it (and my classmates thought i was doubly stupid as i could have been discovered and i didn’t get the “benefits” of cheating).
    I think that this practice gave me also some tranquility before/during the test (i know, i should have been sure enough of my knowledge to not worry) and added a funny aura of mischief to boring exam and test…. could this be called cheating or, maybe doping ? 😉
    I thought about it like a… martial art, or a sport and i had only one simple rule: you must cheat “from the source”, no hidden reduced copies, not little schemes written on your clothes/hands, i had to be able to read it directly from the school books, or the original notebook if was something the teacher dictated us.
    To be sure i wouldn’t really cheat i’ve done this only in subject i was good enough to get passing grades on my own.
    An anectode: one time we, me and some classmates who learned to enjoy this “sport”, were being orally tested and all of us were “performing our arts” (… and it was a very big book, bonus points!) and after i fully responded a specific question without looking at the book, the teacher asked for more details… but i was sure there weren’t more details, even my classmates were sure and eyed quite surprised me, the books and the teacher! I must admit it, then i checked the book and there wasn’t anything more to say… you don’t know how it was hard not to take the book and showing it to the teacher :-))

  2. Bad teachers don’t notice the cheating until it gets so bad that they can’t really miss it, like the maths teacher. Good teachers arrange things so that cheating is harder, like giving multiple tests to the class, so that only 4-5 students have the same test, and these are placed far apart. This means working more, something a good teacher is willing to do but not a poor one. or also the handle tests so that major cheating is impossible because identical response are too evident, and minor cheating is irrelevant, or even where students are allowed, for instance, to use textbooks to a degree (a student that didn’t study will not be able to fill up an essay that requires to sum up all uoiu leraned in, say, history in the past year even if he’s using the book, a student that did study will use the book to verify some data, but the individual elaboration will still be more important than the data). Overall, tis’ always the teacehrs that counts the most: a good one vs a bad one. Bad teachers are easily cheated and will not notice, good teachers are not. The problem is that teaching in italy is mostly a second-rate job, done by people who could not find another job.

  3. Until enough adults begin to speak out on the issue of cheating it will never be dealt with properly. Sounds as if parents are afraid that if their children are punished for cheating that this will harm their children.Qt said that he never cheated but loved the trill of being able to do it! He said he had all he needed to cheat but didn’t. I wonder?

  4. You wonder what, John ? If i really cheated ? 😉
    Well, i didn’t, i was only able to. Why i didn’t ? Just for the reason you told, good parents (one of which was a teacher herself, one known to “have eyes in the back of her head” as she was well aware of what happened in her classroom) that told me cheating wasn’t good and that were able to make me understand WHY cheating wasn’t good with their words and their example.

  5. I have hosted Italian exchange students. They all cheated on the Italian exams and learned they could not cheat on the American exams. According to their experiences, in Italy their way of looking at education was from the old book with memorization and not applying it to their life today in a new and changing diverse global society…American schools taught them to look at the same problem, but solve it in many different ways! Therefore they learned to think through many problems, get the problems correct and they did not need to cheat.

  6. I don’t see cheating such a bad thing, maybe becouse i’ve always seen it as a “normal” way to pass an exam. Now if i think why i was cheating I’d say is most of all becouse of how u feel when u get away with it, infact every time i was cheating in a different an more obvious way.
    ex: during math tests i used to take my notebook from my backpack and rip the page i wrote the notes just pretending i wanted to use it for calculations!
    Eventhough now in university i’m not cheating anymore i would do the same if i in the high school contest, i say so becouse in italian high schools most of the time u are forced to study some subject like Latin or Philosophy.

  7. I am an Italian teacher (public school teacher) and I can tell you, Deirdre, that I am fed up not so much with the students cheating as with my colleagues turning a blind eye to this kind of behaviour or even telling them the answers! I always pass for the ‘bad guy’ when I try to prevent it and colleagues give me the cold shoulder instead of backing me up. I can tell you this is part of the system. Italian students learn dishonesty at school, too. And you should see what sort of falsification goes on during grading meetings (“scrutini”). Inflated grades all the time!

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