Tuition teacher gets jail for helping China students cheat in 2016 O-Level exams

Tuition teacher gets jail for helping China students cheat in 2016 O-Level exams

Zeus Education
The four conspirators from Zeus Education Centre schemed to help six students score in their O-Level exams. (Photo: TODAY/Faris Mokhtar)

SINGAPORE: A tuition teacher involved in a scheme where tuition centre employees helped six students cheat in the O-Level Examinations was sentenced to three years' jail on Monday (Apr 15).

Singaporean Tan Jia Yan, 33, had admitted to 27 counts of cheating and was the first to plead guilty in the case, which involves three others from the Zeus Education Centre, including its principal.

The court heard that Tan and the three others from Zeus helped six students from China cheat in various papers in the 2016 GCE O-Level Examinations.

Tan's three co-conspirators were: Principal Pony Poh Yuan Nie, a 52-year-old Singaporean who ran the education centre in Tampines; Fiona Poh Min, a 30-year-old Singaporean tuition teacher at Zeus and Poh's niece; and 25-year-old Chinese national Feng Riwen, who was helping out at Zeus and occasionally conducting classes there.

They cooked up a scheme to help the six students - aged 17 to 20 - by attaching devices to their bodies including wearable bluetooth devices, which were linked with mobile phones concealed under the students' clothes, and skin-coloured "in-ear" earphones which fed them answers to the tests.

Tan attended the exams as a private candidate with a camera phone attached to her chest with scotch tape, with extra clothing to hide the phone from sight. 

She used iPhone video-calling application Facetime to send a live feed of the exam papers she was attempting back to her three co-conspirators who were in the tuition centre.

The three of them then split up tasks, with some helping to do the papers and others calling the students individually to tell them the answers.

For one particular paper - Mathematics Paper 2 - Tan switched roles and attempted answers to the paper while stationed at Zeus instead.

CHEATING WENT ON FOR UNDER A WEEK, ACROSS PAPERS

The sophisticated cheating operations ran uninterrupted from Oct 19, 2016 to Oct 24, 2016 over the Mathematics, Science Physics/Chemistry and English papers, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Vadivalagan Shanmuga.

It unravelled when one of the students, Chen Yi, was caught by an invigilator during the English Paper 1 exam at Tampines Secondary School.

Ms Stephens Gloria, 30, had heard unusual electronic transmission sounds emitting from him. After Chen Yi finished the paper, he was escorted to the invigilators' holding room, where he was asked to remove his vest, where a mobile phone was hidden.

Ms Gloria noticed a bulge under his shirt, around his collar bone, and the student revealed the other devices attached to him, coming clean on what had happened. The cheating attempt was flagged to Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB).

Investigations later revealed that tuition centre principal Poh had signed contracts regarding the students stipulating that she would receive admission fees and deposits of about S$1,000 and S$8,000 respectively per student for taking them on.

However, if the students failed to pass the O-Level exams and failed to get places in Singapore polytechnics, Poh had to refund the money in full to the Chinese company director she had signed the contracts with.

Poh paid Tan S$1,000 per student for providing them lodging, on top of a monthly salary of about S$3,000.

CASE CREATED A STIR ALL OVER THE WORLD: PROSECUTION

The prosecution pressed for the term that was eventually given, saying that the scheme was premeditated and sophisticated, and that the offences "undermine the integrity of the examinations system".

"This created a stir, to an extent all over the world," said the prosecutor. "BBC also covered this case."

Tan's lawyer R Thrumurgan fought for a lower sentence, saying that "not all of us come from really balanced families and (Tan) was one of those".

He added that it was crystal clear that Tan had "no personal financial gain", while Tan wiped away tears from her eyes in the dock.

District Judge Kenneth Yap did not appear convinced by his arguments, stressing that while Tan may have been pressured by the principal of the tuition centre, "there is no evidence to say that it was sufficient to overbear her will".

He added that Tan went into the exams herself as part of the cheating scheme, and that a person's moral compass would surely alert them that what she was doing was wrong.

CHEATING DENIGRATES EFFORTS OF ALL WHO PUT IN EFFORT FOR O-LEVELS: JUDGE

"It is a foundational exam that determines the course of your career for the rest of your life," said the judge, adding that the case has "affected thousands of students who put in hard work".

In passing his sentence, the judge stressed that Tan's action "undermines the principle of meritocracy which must underpin our educational system".

Speaking to Tan, he said: "You must understand that you made a conscious choice when you went into the examination hall and helped (live-stream) the questions out. It is not so much what you have done, but the damage you have caused the system."

"Every year thousands of students take the O-Level exams and put in hard work, blood and sweat, their parents also, and the notion that students can buy (results) is offensive," said the judge. "It cannot be that the rich can procure examination results. That is a very fundamental principle to ... what we stand for. There is an international aspect to the case - our reputation as an education hub is at harm."

"This is the price you have paid for your offence and this is the necessary deterrent signal ... to those who attempt to cheat in the same way. We have to protect the sanctity of our O-Level examinations," declared the judge.

The cases for the three co-accused are ongoing.

Source: CNA/ll(mn)

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