Kosovo’s cheating problem runs deep

Kosovo’s laissez-faire attitude towards cheating speaks to deeper, troubling societal problems.

Recently I read about a cheating scandal in a school in the state of Bihar in India. Parents climbed school walls to pass cheat sheets through windows to their children, who were taking an exam inside. It was an extraordinary sight of people dangling on the sides of the building while cameras flashed and police stood nearby watching. The case reminded me of the plagiarism scandals that have plagued Kosovo in recent years — not as dramatic as that incident in India — but still scores of high-profile cases have brought to mind how entrenched and misunderstood the problem of plagiarism is in Kosovo.

Cheating or “copying,” as it’s called in Albanian, has been present for a long time in schools and classrooms across Kosovo, while the consequences have never been harsh.This partly explains why even today, cheating in school is still done under the watchful eyes of teachers and monitors in the classroom. The lenient attitude of educators and school authorities toward cheaters is underlined by many broad societal factors and — as in India — is often attributed to external factors, such as competition for university placements and labor markets. But these external factors may fall short of explaining other pernicious forms of cheating, such as the plagiarism that has permeated academia, media, the government, and all other creative and scholarly endeavors.

For many years Kosovo has been rocked by scandals of plagiarism that have reached deep and wide including ministers of education and university deans. Kosovo’s intellectuals and scholars have been accused of and discredited for publishing books, scholarly articles, and doctoral dissertations by using the works of others without citation or credit, and plagiarizing chapters and books in part or whole. Serious published work in areas as important as medicine has been stolen from others and passed on as original research in areas of science as complex as neurosurgery. This widespread fraud of scholarly work is in part a consequence of the postwar decade, in which hundreds of doctoral degrees were awarded, a clear indication that degree-granting institutions have turned into diploma mills.

But academia is not the only field where cheating and plagiarism is a serious ethical issue. Kosovo’s media, which has pursued cases of plagiarism in other institutions with zeal, are themselves engaged in daily egregious abuses of copyright material. For example, take Koha Ditore, one of Kosovo’s leading newspapers, which publishes brief news articles and pieces online at Koha.net. On any given day, one can find scores of brief articles without any proper citation or information on how the material arrived there. Typical examples include an article about two blind men in China planting thousands of trees, which was lifted verbatim from the UK’s Daily Mail, or another brief from metro.co.uk titled “This is how much world leaders are paid.”

I wrote Koha.net’s editors about these and other posts taken from other media, and received no reply. I was curious if they had some kind of agreement with these publications to republish their copyrighted material — I strongly suspect Koha.net doesn’t. Even if Koha.net has such an agreement, it should still clearly state the source of the material. Sadly this lack of transparency in journalism, where it’s impossible for a reader to know what is plagiarized and what is legitimate, is what passes for mainsteream journalism in publications like Koha.net and other Kosovo media.

Koha.net is hardly alone. Portals and newspapers routinely publish copyrighted material from Kosovo and abroad without permission. But I single Koha out because of the respect it has in Kosovo as one of the country’s most important sources of serious, credible and original journalism.

The role of the media in society can not be overstated enough. They are supposed to inform and educate the public about the events and news that affect lives, shape attitudes, and change fortunes. Stories and news are written by humans and to err is human, especially in the everyday frenzy of publishing hundreds of stories. But the media in Kosovo is engaged in a systematic campaign of plagiarizing content and cheating the public, whom they have a moral and civic duty to inform in a dignified and truthful manner.

Cheating and plagiarizing content without properly referencing original material in Kosovo’s institutions of higher learning and media has reached a depressing trend. The consequences are far reaching and point to a deeper ethical and moral crisis in the institutions that are supposed to serve in the name of the greater good. This country, for now, lacks a foundational narrative which affirms that integrity, honesty and truth should form the bedrock values of any society.

24 April 2015 - 15:56

Mikra Krasniqi

24/04/2015 - 15:56

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.