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Unethical? Tuition agency says 'It's just business'

Students pay up to $2,000 for essays written by tutors. -TNP

Thu, Feb 18, 2010
The New Paper

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.

Related links:

» Student essays: Just $100 for 1,000 words

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» $300 to cheat for you? No, thanks

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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Other takers if tutor turns down writing job

Ms Leong, 24, who has been a freelance tutor for the last three months, said that she knows it is not ethically correct to do the work for students.

However, she still chooses to take on such requests because she sees it as "work and helping students out".

She said: "Sometimes, the students might not know what teachers expect from them. So by helping them to do the work, I hope for them to learn how to do it themselves subsequently."

She said that during "peak periods", which is during the school holidays when holiday assignments are given out, she would be asked to take up to three assignments a week.

But she claimed that in the three months she has been with the agency, she has taken up only three assignments. The most she has been paid so far is $300 for a 1,000-word essay.

Ms Leong said that she has no contact with the students and does not even know their names.

She said that if she is not happy with the agreed price but is interested in doing the work, she negotiates for a higher fee.

Her tuition agency coordinator sends her text messages when there are assignments, and takes a 20 per cent cut of the agreed price.

If she is not free, or feels that too much effort is required for her to do the assignment, such as an 8,000-word thesis, she turns it down.

"There will be other takers," she said.

So how are these transactions carried out? First, the agency coordinator takes the call by an interested student. Our enquiries revealed that a 2,000-word JC-level literature essay can fetch the tutor $800, while prices can go up to $2,000 for a 10,000-word university essay.

The interested student is then told to send in the essay, report, or assignment question and requirements via e-mail.

The tuition agency coordinators then inform their network of freelance or full-time tutors.

Once the assignment is completed, the tutor sends it back to the coordinator via e-mail. The coordinator then forwards it to the student.

Alternatively, a personal handover of the essay can also be arranged between coordinator and student.

In terms of payment, the tuition agencies said that they prefer ATM transfers or cheque payments rather than meeting up to receive payment.

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Students can get suspended, expelled

CHEATING, plagiarism, falsification or collusion are all deemed as acts which compromise academic honesty and integrity.

According to the Singapore Management University (SMU) spokesman, while it is "not easy to detect if a paper is purchased", SMU maintains a Code of Academic Integrity which all students are expected to abide by.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have similar Honour Codes.

The students are expected to abide by the highest standards of academic honesty.

Disciplinary actions range from receiving a "fail" grade for the course, or even suspension in SMU's case.

Local polytechnics and JCs told The New Paper they take cheating cases seriously too.

Said the Temasek Polytechnic spokesman: "'Depending on the severity of the case, punitive actions taken could include failing the component or subject, suspension from course and even removal from course."'

Mrs Lee Bee Yann, principal of St Andrew's Junior College, said cheating students will be liable for "suspension, expulsion or punishment".

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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