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Parents hire tutors to do kids' school and tuition assignments

One of them says she wants her son to have enough sleep so that he can focus in class. -TNP
Maureen Koh

Tue, Mar 06, 2012
The New Paper

Her child is burdened with so much tuition, school assignments and co-curricular activities (CCAs) that he is finding it tough to cope.

Madam Irene Tan's son, a Secondary 3 student in a top boys' school says: "It gets so crazy some days that I just want to give up school. I don't mind the lessons but I hate doing all the stupid homework."

So what does Madam Tan do?

A. Cut down on tuition?

B. Help him with his assignments herself?

C. Hire people to do his school and tuition assignments when he is too tired to do them?

Yes, it's option C.

Madam Tan says: "If my son does not get enough sleep, he will not be able to focus in class and that's definitely a no-no."

She pays the specialised tutors $200 per hour if they have to swing by before midnight and $250 an hour when it's later. She found out about the tutors through word-of-mouth as they do not advertise.

The tutors are on her mobile phone's speed dial.

But how does that help her son?

Madam Tan says: "They will finish whatever homework (that is) left while he goes to bed."

The tutors do what he can't finish so he can get some sleep. And, they don't have to explain the workings or formulas.

She says: "It's not like my son doesn't know how to do it. He just does not have the time."

Madam Tan insists it's fine because it has not affected her son's grades.

"The tuition that he gets is to help him master the subjects and prepare him for the major tests and exams," she said.

"And he has managed to consistently score As for all the subjects."

A check on the boy's result slips showed that he has not slackened even after the specialist tutors were hired since last year.

The New Paper on Sunday polled 80 parents outside some elite tuition centres and found that nearly half had hired or will hire such tutors.

One such parent who also gets tutors to do her daughters' homework is Mrs Pauline Soh. Her daughters are 11 and 14.

But her reason for wanting such tutors is different from Madam Tan's - her tutors are hired to help with her children's assignments from the elite tuition centre.

Given that the centre demands students get consistently good results, Mrs Soh, 40, a civil servant, says it can get tough for her daughters to cope with "mounting school assignments plus the extra homework".

He daughters take English, mathematics and science at the tuition centre.

Aside from the academic classes, her daughters also has ballet, piano and art classes. Her younger daughter also gets tuition for Higher Chinese.

The older girl is in an independent school.

She says: "It took my daughters nearly a year before they were given a place in the tuition centre."

Mrs Soh, who lives in a condominium in the east, says: "After all that effort, it'd be such a terrible waste if they had to give up their spots for others on the waiting list just because they cannot finish the work."

She adds: "I try very hard not to let the tutors help with the school homework as well so that my girls won't be too spoilt."

She sets aside an extra $500 to $700 a month for the specialist tutor for each child.

Mr Ong Kwee Lam, 39, who has a 10-year-old son, says he knows of friends who have paid for such services.

The architect reckons that if the need arises when his son gets to secondary school, he "will not hesitate" to do the same.

Says Mr Ong: "It's nothing illegal. At most, you can only argue whether it's morally right or wrong.

"It makes no difference if my child ends up copying his homework from his classmate. At least, with a tutor, I can be sure that he'll get it right."

A secondary school teacher in a top girls' school says she has not come across any such cases among her students.

But she admits she has heard about it from her peers in other schools.

Says the English head of department: "It came as a shock when I first heard about. It's so totally wrong.

"How can any parent condone this or, worse, encourage it?"

The teacher adds: "Should we discover that any of our children here are guilty of this, we'd not hesitate to haul them up for disciplinary action."

Madam Dawn Chionh, 44, feels it's fine for parents to send their children for intensive tuition but not in this manner.

Her daughter, who is in Secondary 1 in an Independent School, also has tuition at an elite centre.

Madam Chionh, a housewife, says: "What kind of values are we teaching our kids? That it's okay to 'delegate' your work?

"It's downright dishonest."

Mr Wong Ju Ping, 36, managing director of Lynn Tuition Centre, says he has heard of this practice among his students.

Says Mr Wong: "Teaching is like selling; you cannot make a sale unless someone buys. You have not taught unless someone has learnt.

"Parents who resort to such tactics (think) they know what is best for their children."

But, he adds: "Perhaps they could allow their children to learn experientially so they will adopt greater initiative and self-direction, which happen to be two of the skills under the (Ministry of Education's) 21st century learning competency framework."


Tutors, why do this?

The New Paper on Sunday spent two weeks searching for tutors who do homework for students and found five of them through parents.

All have education backgrounds. Here's what these people who call themselves "specialised tutors" do:

What is expected of you?

When I get a call, I'll go down to the student's home. I am usually shown to a desk where stacks of homework are left on the table.

The parent or the child will tell me the order of priority in which the homework should be done.

And these subjects are...?

It can be anything from English to mathematics, science, physics and even history or geography.

It's usually homework from the school or tuition centre which the child cannot complete.

But you don't teach the children?

No, I just take over and complete everything while the child plays, watches TV or sleeps.

How is the homework done?

If the assignments require the students to complete in their own handwriting, I write the answers on pieces of paper, which the students copy later.

But I prefer homework that has to be typed out because I can charge more.

How much do you charge?

Anything from $150 an hour, up to $250 an hour for higher secondary students.

If all the work is done by me (as in typewritten), there is a 20 to 50 per cent surcharge.

What are your working hours like?

Totally flexible; I'm on call 24/7.

But I avoid making any plans after 9pm as that's usually when the frantic calls of distress come in.

I get an average of two calls a week. When it's the period of continual or semestral assignments, the calls go up to as many as 20 a week.

How do you think this will benefit the children?

It's just a job. Don't take the moral high ground with me. You pay me, I do my work.

Mum, how could you even think of that?

It's really interesting how fast this mother can change her mind.

Two weeks ago, it disturbed me when nearly half of the 80 parents outside some elite tuition centres told me they had hired or will hire tutors to do their kids' homework.

Whatever the reasons - however justified the parents thought they were - it just was not right, I felt.

If your child is a straight A or even a "high B" student, does he or she really need tuition? And this comes from a mother who (like her husband) never believed that tuition was necessary. I am also not the type who sits down and coaches my son in his schoolwork.

When I first wrote about this in The New Paper on Sunday in November last year, some parents reacted strongly. And negatively.

Among the barrage of e-mails I received was one from a mother who first accused me of "boasting that your son is intelligent", then promised that I'd "live to regret (it) because when he gets to secondary school, he'll be nothing".

In chasing this story, I was yet again taken to task.

Madam Irene Tan, who wagged her finger at me, said: "How can a mother treat her child's education so lightly?

"Just because your son is in a reasonably good school does not mean he will turn out to be a success in the future."

I was indignant, though I did not bother to clarify then.

But the thing is, my son has never had the need for tuition. He coped well in school and while he didn't top his cohort, he managed to score two distinctions and two As for his Primary School Leaving Examination.

He spends most of his free time feeding his voracious appetite for books.

He reads everything including thrillers, autobiographies, manga comics and football magazines.

When he's not reading, he's down at the neighbourhood football field trying to polish his skills in the hope of morphing into Manchester United's Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.

Games on his laptop are restricted to a total of two hours over the weekend, and there's no TV on weekdays.

And he is a happy child. But lately, things have changed a little - since he started Secondary 1.

Most school days, he returns home only after 5pm and deals with lots of homework. He usually manages to finish the work and hop into bed before midnight.

Until this week. And this mum's heart broke.

He had so much homework that he went to bed at nearly 1am. Five hours later, he was expected to be up and ready for the school bus to pick him up for another 10 hours in school.

I promptly updated my Facebook status, attracting several likes and comments.

Someone suggested: Help him do his homework.

Another recommended setting aside the homework for another day.

In that instant, I understood why some of these parents resorted to hiring those tutors.

The tutor would allow him to get some much-needed rest. Then, he could be fresh and ready for lessons the next day.

But when I told my son, it was his turn to be indignant. He said: "Mummy! Don't you know that's so dishonest? How can you even think of it?"


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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