IN MY OPINION
In Thailand, many students, unfortunately, believe that copying is an acceptable practice and is part of academic life. Many others don't realise that it is detrimental to effective learning.
My teaching assistant, above, is nicknamed ‘Xerox’ because he ‘copies’ everything I do. He even wears my name on his name tag. STEVE GRAHAM
If a ''bad'' practice, such as copying, becomes a socially accepted norm, it will definitely hinder the already near-comatose learning process in Thailand.
Blind leading the blind
Copying seems to be alive and well and flourishing in many, if not all, of our education establishments.
Let's be truthful, it's human nature. We like to have friends, be part of a group, and by conforming to these practices there is bound to be a bit of copying so that everyone feels the same and fits in.
The problem with copying in an educational context is that while it is being done, effective learning is not taking place. To be honest, no learning is taking place. There is no point in making claims that because Thailand is deemed by some academics to be a collectivist society, copying is something that has to be tolerated as if it is something culturally endemic to Thailand.
Chimpanzees and social learning from videos
An interesting story from the BBC details a study into the ''potent effect social learning has on primates''. The animals were shown a video of a trained chimp combining two parts of a tool to reach a reward of food. By using a video, it was possible to control how much information was given to the chimpanzees.
What is interesting about this research is that different groups were shown progressively less information. A handful of chimpanzees that had not seen the full demonstration were able to make the tool on their own and adapt it when the food was at shorter distances from their cage.
Instead of blindly copying the demonstration, they were able to make a choice as to the best way to obtain their reward of food, by switching between the unmodified tool or combining pieces together. The primates that saw the whole video kept using the longer tool even though it was more difficult to reach the food as it was put nearer their cage.
Social learning is often too highly rated
From this research, it is fair to assume that there is a possibility that social learning is a strong force in chimpanzees, making them ''go with what you have seen'' rather than work out something that is more appropriate for the task at hand.
The researchers are now looking at carrying this test out on young children to see how much they rely on social learning. It will be interesting to see if they will react the same way.
In my opinion, social learning has its place. However, blindly copying something without due thought and reason results in a lack of progressive learning and creativity, as was demonstrated by the researchers.
When circumstances change, people need to adapt to the new situation, which will not happen if they are allowed to copy without understanding what and why they are performing a given task.
Teachers can help their students to understand by explaining why they are asking students to complete their class work and homework, as well as by showing the context and ways to adapt to different circumstances. If teachers castigate those who blatantly copy their work from others, it might eventually put a stop to this anti-learning behaviour.
Steve Graham is an English-language teacher at the Language Centre, Udon Thani Rajabhat University in northeast Thailand. You can contact Steve at email@example.com if you have something you would like to discuss.