Monday, July 24, 2017

A question of integrity

Yesterday, there was an article on Channel News Asia about how you can easily pay someone to write your essays for you. One service provider claimed to have a “team of Rafflesians ready to help”, while another said their writers were graduates of “elite junior colleges with placements in top universities.” Essentially, you pay a few hundred dollars for someone else to write your assignment, some even with a guaranteed pass grade.

I found it extremely depressing. Not so much regarding the practice - I know this has existed for years. What I found discouraging was the angle of the article. You see, even though the article painted the practice negatively, it was only because the journalist found one of the bought essays to earn a failing grade. A seller interviewed boasted about the quality of his essays while a buyer talked only about the risk of getting caught. University spokespersons warned about both. 

In fact, a long section was dedicated to the marker slamming the quality of the essay. Yet another long section was devoted to the harsh penalties meted out to students who were caught outsourcing their essays. NOWHERE in the article does the journalist or any of the interviewees mention that this practice should be condemned simply because it is wrong.

This is one of those cases where there is no grey area. To me, it's not about how good the bought essay was, or whether it passed any plagiarism checker. The point is that getting someone else to write your essay and then passing it as your own is cheating. Plain and simple. It's the same as going into an exam and copying from your neighbour. It makes a mockery of the education system where one is supposed to learn and be evaluated on that learning.

I find that people have become increasingly creative when it comes to justifying their own actions. Everything is acceptable as long as you can argue it so. But I believe that when you strip down all the justifications and rationalisations, you'll find that the intent of the individual is often wrapped around one main value - integrity or the lack of it. Integrity is something you have or you don't, and is the value that drives your very core. For example "I can pay my maid late since I give her food" or "It's ok to under-declare my taxes since the government doesn't need it anyway" or "I will pretend I didn't know my son stole his classmate's toy since that classmate is very rich".

Unfortunately, integrity is not a value that can be concretised or assessed in a neat package so it's often undervalued and under-measured, whether in school or at the workplace. People of integrity are seldom recognised simply for being upright. In fact, they're usually scoffed at for being "old-fashioned" or "naive". In many instances, people adopt honesty only when it suits them or when something hurts them personally. Often, people with questionable integrity are the quickest to point a finger at others' honesty (cough*Trump*cough). In other words, society has evolved such that even the boundaries of honesty have been redrawn. That in itself, ironically, is a lack of integrity.

Coming back to the practice of buying essays, the fundamental problem is a lack of integrity, both on the part of the buyers AND the sellers. The sellers are equivalent to scalpers who buy concert tickets and resell them at exorbitant prices. Sure, they're not committing a crime but they're engaging in ethically abhorrent behaviour). And the fact that the article didn't call them out on this, reflects pretty much the values of society today - one that values only results. How the results are achieved is secondary. If you have to get someone to do the work for you, so be it. Just don't get caught. (And if you do get caught, find some creative excuse to justify it).

In case you're wondering, I don't have a solution to offer. Penalties will only go so far and rewards can have a backlash where people do something only for its returns. Encouraging people to adopt a value for its own sake is an enormously difficult task. All I can say is that people with no moral compass are the ones who potentially cost the system and society a lot, especially when they are revealed in cheating or fraud cases.

Perhaps what we can do to uphold the value of integrity, is to speak up against immoral practices, while supporting and encouraging the upright among us, so that they might not weary in doing good. And as parents, we have an enormous influence on our kids, by setting good examples and living lives of integrity. In a world where everything seems to be negotiable for a price, may we have the conviction to say that our values are not for sale.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Win a Danger Dan book!

The good folks at Epigram Books have initiated a contest for Danger Dan fans - draw your favourite character and stand a chance to win a book!

The contest is on Facebook, the link is here. For the benefit of readers here though, I'm reproducing the details here.

Calling out to all Danger Dan and Gadget Girl fans! We want to know who your favourite character from the series is through your own hand-drawn version of him/her/it.

The best 3 entries will win any book of choice from the Danger Dan or Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series!

Your favourite character can be from any book from the 2 series. It need not be a main character; if your favourite character happens to be a snail that appears in one of the books, so be it!

Here is what you have to do:

1. Draw your favourite character and write 1 or 2 sentences
a) about the character and
b) why this character is your favourite.

Psst!: Colouring your character will definitely increase your chances of winning!

2. Sign off with your Name and Age.
Eg: Nicole, 10

3. Post on your FB page (if you don't have one, you can use your parents')
a) a picture of you holding the book your favourite character is from
b) a close-up picture of your drawing with the sentences

4. Tag “Epigram Books” and “Danger Dan” in your post.

You can post your pictures anytime from now till the deadline.
Deadline: 24 July 2017

And here's added incentive: the latest Danger Dan and Gadget Girl adventure, #4 The Zany Zombie-fest has just hit bookstores. If you win the contest, you can request for this book as your winning prize! So get your kids to put pen/crayon/marker/coloured pencil to paper and send in their entries 😃

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