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In senior secondary school, a brilliant friend of mine woke up one morning (from a bad dream, I suspected) to announce that he was tired of “chewing and pouring.” He would from then on, peruse his notes, understand them thoroughly, and answer questions based on them using his own words and expressions, he assured me. I tried vainly to discourage him from answering in his “own words and expressions” since he could memorize. My reasons were simple: you would either be marked wrong or denied the maximum marks. But his mind was made up. He would impress the teachers with his well- thought-out answers, he thought. I wished him luck.
After implementing his no “chewing and pouring” policy, his grades reduced considerably. Needless to say he abandoned the doomed policy altogether. Maybe he had failed to express himself adequately in answering the questions. Maybe he hadn’t understood his lessons well. But the paralyzing truth about Ghana’s education system is that “chewing and pouring” is a most rewarding learning technique. If you chew and pour, you are almost promised to do better than whoever writes ‘their understanding.’
The fact is that even though the usual refrain in classrooms is: “Do you understand?” to which the obliging students respond: “ Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Madam” ( depending on the sex of the teacher), most students don’t rely on their understanding.
On the average, originality is punished while regurgitation of cut and dried answers is very much rewarded.
Even in universities where ‘critical thinkers’ are supposed to be trained, “chew and pour” is ever-present. Constraints such as the huge number of students, limited teaching and learning facilities among others lead lecturers to compel students to “go straight to the point.” A simple instruction which discourages relating your understanding in your own words! Even university students memorize chunks of their handouts. That’s one of the most efficient keys to excelling.
The net effect of this state of affairs is that generally Ghanaians plagiarize. They do because they are not taught from the outset to be creative and to value originality. From birthday wishes through Christmas and New Year messages to motivational pieces, Ghanaians copy and paste without acknowledging the originators. Brazenly enough, well-known quotes from world renowned persons are often passed on by some people as theirs. Anybody quoting Martin Luther King Jr ought to know that they could be easily found out if they don’t acknowledge him accordingly.
And the most baffling thing is that some people don’t see the point in not plagiarizing. Well, plagiarism is the same as stealing. And until we accept stealing as a virtue (which is unlikely), plagiarism is a vice.
So as we join the world to deride Melania Trump for plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech, we must start forthwith to purge ourselves of the ‘sin’ of plagiarism which appears to be a part and parcel of us. We must encourage and teach our children to be original and creative.
And like the many teachers who are grateful to Melania Trump for providing them a classic example of plagiarism, we must be equally thankful to her for reminding us to do some introspection.
Thank you, Melania Trump, but not again.