Wikipedia’s Education Report: Plagiarism, Copyright Violation are the major challenges among Indian students

Wikipedia has published report by Tory Read Studio that presented findings and recommendations from a qualitative review of the India Education Program Pune Pilot Project, which is part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s Wikipedia Education Program.

Between February and November 2011, Foundation staff and consultants planned and implemented the Pune Pilot Project. It took place at three universities in Pune, India, and included 1,014 students spanning 24 courses. The foundation hired Campus Ambassadors (CAs) to drive the project to introduce the Wikipedia assignment and teach students the basics of Wikipedia (including creating a username and making edits and here are some of the startling findings:

Heading into September, an increasing amount of problematic new material began to appear on English Wikipedia. Problems included copyvios, plagiarized passages, content mistakes and English language errors. In addition, many of the contributions were on topics in the areas of computer science and engineering, which were already well covered by Wikipedia’s native editing community.

India has copyright and plagiarism laws on the books, but they aren’t generally enforced, and many professors accept copy-pasted and plagiarized content from students. “Piracy is rampant here,” said one professor. “Students copy directly from books and get away with it.”

“Before the Wikipedia assignment, copy-pasting from the Internet was standard practice for all of us,” said one student.

Regarding plagiarism, one student said, “We routinely take other people’s work and pass it on as our own. This idea of illegality was alien.”

Global Wikipedia editors said that even before the Pune Pilot Project, a disproportionate amount of copyvio content that appeared on English Wikipedia was coming from IP addresses on the subcontinent. “We already had concerns for the past few years about a lot of work coming out of India being loaded with copyvios,” said a Wikipedia arbitrator. “Of course, there are excellent editors from India, too. I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush.” [wikipedia page]

Though the foundation tried to do mid course-correction, only a small percentage of students were able to understand Wikipedia’s copyright and plagiarism rules.

After request from global Wikipedians, the pilot project was shutdown and out of 1,000 participants, only 266 contributed content that survived the cleanup.,

We’re computer programmers,” said one student. “It was fun to find a technical work-around. And besides, Indians are famous for breaking rules. If you don’t want to wait in a queue with a billion other people, you find a way to go around the system. It’s the only way to get things done. We know, now, that this was really bad.”

The question to ask is what is Wikipedia going to do with those 266 students – these are the campus ambassadors who went beyond the copy/paste job and could be ideal for India specific content creation initiatives.

Aside, some of the successful pages that got created as part of the pilot projects are Partial equilibrium, Human capital, Robinson Crusoe economy, Public sector banks in India, Structural model (software), Double-ended priority queue, and Object database.

Aside, this reflects the state of education system in India – i.e. paucity of creators and like we have said earlier, we aren’t sure whether Indian government’s focus on providing tablets will ever create creators or simply create consumers who know how to repurpose a content to ‘get good grades’.