Let’s put our ghostwriters for Western students to better use
By XN Iraki
| October 12th 2021
A news item on BBC titled ‘The Kenyans who are helping the world to cheat’ by Reha Kansara and Ed Main left my head spinning, more so as an academic.
Why would rich and affluent students in the West outsource their research papers to Africa, of all places?
It was once a dark continent, while former US President Donald Trump once used unprintable words to describe it. What has changed?
Some might see this kind of outsourcing as a new form of slavery, away from plantations. Thinking is not easy, from my experience.
Before we condemn the outsourcers in the West, let’s admit it happens here too, to some extent.
I see adverts for proposal writing, projects, term papers and theses.
The use of ghostwriters is more than cheap labour; it’s revenge against innovation! When software for checking plagiarism such as Turnitin was introduced, students had to be counter-innovative.
They decided to have the whole paper done for them without worrying about copy-pasting.
It seems some of the most complex problems have very easy solutions. Remember Americans using the Navajo Indian language to communicate during WW II? Who can break the code for natural languages?
The British gained intelligence during the Mau Mau war by learning Kikuyu and, as one mzungu told me, painting themselves black to blend with the indigenous people.
One local university tried to insist on handwritten exams to curb cheating, but Covid-19 upended all that.
With the Internet, your paper can now be outsourced to the best brains in the world.
By outsourcing contract cheating to Kenya, never mind the ethics of outsourcing, the West could be giving a vote of confidence in our education system, which we think is inferior and needs to be changed.
Mind you, I am not endorsing cheating in any way.
The contract cheating confirms we are all human, looking for shortcuts and avoiding work while seeking the best in life.
But what are the risks of such outsourcing?
Many years ago while in primary school, a neighbour and classmate asked me during a history exam for an answer to a simple question: “Where did the Maasai come from?”
To teach him a lesson on how not to cheat, I gave him the wrong answer.
“Ground,” I whispered. Possibly out of anger, he went on to study history at the university and is now a school principal somewhere. Can he contact me once he reads this?
Could we end up doing the same to the students in the West by giving them bogus answers?
Who does the quality check? Could we end up degrading the Western education system? Does paying academic writers guarantee quality?
But something else upsets me. Could this be a project to “harvest” ideas from Africa? I do not want to be a conspiracy theorist, but why can’t governments and regulators stamp out this practice?
There is even a better idea. Why can’t Western universities or researchers reach out to the real exam writers in Kenya and harness their brains?
They could even give them standardised tests like SAT, GMAT or GRE.
Remember how the US recruited German scientists, laying the ground for advances in nuclear weapons and rocket systems that took them to the moon?
The cheating shows that one of Kenya’s greatest assets is our brains, not oil. If we can’t use them well, someone else will at a price.
I’m amazed by the number of Nobel prize winners who did part of their research work in Kenya.
It should not surprise us that Kenya is a hotbed of innovations starting with M-Pesa and other applications.
It is no wonder ICT and its offshoots have done so well in Kenya.
Long before the exam cheating scandal, many Western start-ups made Kenya their home, tapping our brains.
We love boasting of our athlete's exploits in global events; it’s time we also took pride in our thinkers.
It seems where the government fails, the private sector and innovation take over.
Noted how employment agencies have been sending Kenyans abroad?
Does it surprise you that while President Trump rallied against outsourcing, particularly in manufacturing, a more serious type of outsourcing was taking place - thinking?
We can’t forget the economic reality of joblessness.
Academic writers, a better term than cheaters, are looking for a livelihood.
They are reacting to the invisible hand of the market.
I am told some mainstream journalists in Kenya quit when they discovered there is more money in academic writing, or is it ghostwriting?
The BBC story leaves no doubt that we have more potential to change the world and our country than we thought.
By fighting in the two world wars, Africans realised the white man was not invincible, he could also die.
This catalysed agitation for independence.
Could writing Westerners’ exams demystify their intellect, leading to our mental emancipation?
Is the intellectual potential of Africa finally being recognised? Who will benefit from it?
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