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Thu, Feb 18, 2010
The New Paper
Unethical? Tuition agency says 'It's just business'

By Bryna Sim

SLOG extra hours while in a tuition class and your grades might improve.

But why bother when you can pay a tutor from an agency to do all the work for you.

The New Paper has learnt that some tuition agencies here are hotbeds for such practices.

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Out of the 25 tuition agencies and tuition centres that we contacted, more than half said that they were aware of such happenings and engage in them.

However, none of the five tuition centres we called said that they agreed to such offers.

Tuition agencies help to co-ordinate between tutors and students, while tuition centres are like schools, with physical premises where classes are conducted.

Ms Leong, 24, signed up to be a freelance tutor with a local tuition agency in November last year and was soon recruited to produce work for paying students.

One-off assignments

She found herself not just tutoring students, but was also asked to help students do one-off assignments in the form of essays and reports.

These other "jobs" were offered to her by the tuition agency she signed up with.

She admitted that it was unethical on her part to be helping the students in such a manner.

The New Paper reported last week that some local and foreign students here were cheating on their school assignments by paying other students - or online "teachers"- to do their work for them.

These "teachers" would advertise their services on online forums and the essay transactions are carried out online.

However, The New Paper has discovered that such transactions happen not just online.

Some local tuition agencies are playing middle men by linking up students with freelance tutors like Ms Leong who do the work.

The previous reports mentioned that these buyers were mainly foreign students here who are struggling with English.

Local students involved

But The New Paper's enquiries have revealed that buyers can also be local students from junior colleges, polytechnics and universities here who have a good command of English, but who are seeking a sneaky way out of doing their assignments.

Said Ms Ang, a tuition agency co-ordinator from Alison Tuition Agency: "Students these days are smarter.

"They know they can try this method of getting their homework done without actually doing it themselves."

Over the last two years, Ms Ang claimed that she has received several enquiries from students who call to ask for tutors who can do the assignments for them.

However, she said that she has not taken up such offers.

"It's troublesome. How do I know how much to charge you for an assignment like that?" she said.

Tuition agencies here claim they have mixed feelings about acceding to such requests.

A tuition agency coordinator, who only wanted to be known as Mr Ng, said that it was "just business" to him, which involved "the buying and selling of an academic service".

But some tuition agencies and tuition centres here said that such practices were "unethical".

Said Mr Cheong , coordinator at Intaglio Tuition Agency: "In the long run, if such practices are promoted, these students do not deserve to get to where they are academically.

"Ultimately, their lack of ability to do their own work will show in their exams."

Teachers and principals The New Paper spoke to said they will take very strict action against students who are caught.

Similarly, Mr Andrew Neo, coordinator at Always Reliable Tuition Centre, felt that while it was "fine for students to seek help and advice on their work", they should not get a tutor to do the work for them.

According to the Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman, tuition agencies and freelance tutors are not covered by the Education Act, as they do not operate as schools.

This means that they do not come under MOE's jurisdiction.

On the other hand, tuition centres are required to be registered with MOE as schools under the Education Act.

If MOE finds out that a tuition centre has infringed the Education Act, necessary action will be taken, including revoking the centre's registration if deemed appropriate.

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