Academic Dishonesty and Cultural Difference

Academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating ,are problems that most teachers have dealt with in their career. Students sometimes succumb to the temptation of finding ways to excel or just survive a course by doing things that are highly questionable. This post will attempt to deal with some of the issues related to academic dishonesty. In particular, we will look at how perceptions of academic dishonesty vary across context.

Cultural Variation

This may be frustrating to many but there is little agreement in terms of what academic dishonesty is once one leaves their own cultural context. In the West, people often believe that a person can create and “own” an idea, that people should “know” their stuff, and that “credit” should be giving one using other people’s ideas. These foundational assumptions shape how teachers and students view using others ideas and using the answers of friends to complete assignments

However, in other cultures there is more of an “ends justifies the means” approach. This manifests itself in using ideas without giving credit because ideas belong to nobody and having friends “help” you to complete an assignment or quiz because they know the answer and you do not, if the situation was different you would give them the answer. Therefore, in many context doesn’t matter how the assignment or quiz is completed as long as it is done.

This has a parallel in many situations. If you are working on a project for your boss and got stuck. Would it be deceptive to ask for help from a colleague to get the project done? Most of us have done this at one time or another. The problem is that this is almost always frown upon during an assignment or assessment in the world of academics.

The purpose here is not to judge one side or the other but rather to allow people to identify the assumptions they have about academic dishonesty so that they avoid jumping to conclusion when confronted with this by people who are not from the same part of the world as them.

Our views on academic dishonesty are shaped in the context we grow up in

Clear Communication

One way to deal with the misunderstandings of academic dishonesty across cultures is for the teacher to clearly define what academic dishonesty is to them. This means providing examples an explaining how this violates the norms of academia. In the context of academia, academic dishonesty in the forms of cheating and plagiarism are completely unacceptable.

One strategy that I have used to explain academic dishonesty is to compare academic dishonesty that is totally culturally repulsive locally. For example, I have compare plagiarism to wearing your shoes in someone’s house in Asia (major no no in most parts). Students never understand what plagiarism is when defined in isolation abstractly (or so they say). However, when plagiarism is compared to wearing your shoes in someone house, they begin to see how much academics hate this behavior. They  also realize how they need to adjust their behavior for the context they are in.

By presenting a cultural argument against plagiarism and cheating rather than a moral one students are able to understand how in the context of school this is not acceptable. Outside of school there are normally different norms of acceptable behavior.


The steps to take with people who share the same background are naturally different than with the suggestion provided here. The primary point to remember is that academic dishonesty is not seen the same way be everyone. This requires that the teacher communicate what they mean when referring to this and to provide a relevant example of academic dishonesty so the students can understand.


One thought on “Academic Dishonesty and Cultural Difference

  1. Pingback: Writing as a Process or Product | educational research techniques

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