'O'-Levels cheating scammers 'made a travesty' of hardworking students' efforts, says judge

Tutor admits to helping students cheat in 2016 O-level exams
Tutor admits to helping students cheat in 2016 O-level exams

SINGAPORE — A female tutor who was part of a syndicate that helped six foreign students cheat during their ‘O’-Level examinations in 2016 was sentenced to three years’ jail on Monday (15 April).

Tan Jia Yan, 32, and three accomplices from Zeus Education Centre had helped the Chinese national students to cheat during the examination by providing them with answers through gadgets attached to their body.

The three other accomplices involved, Zeus’s defacto principal Pony Poh Yuan Nie, 52, tutors Fiona Poh Min, 30, and Feng Riwen, 25, are still undergoing trial.

On Monday, District Judge Kenneth Yap said that the ‘O’-Levels were a “national level examination attempted by thousands of students who put in hard work and blood and sweat.”

“This act denigrates the effort of all these students.”

“It cannot be that the rich can procure examination results,” said DJ Yap, adding that the case had the potential to undermine the principle of meritocracy and Singapore’s reputation as an education hub.

Tan’s lawyer R Thrumurgan argued that Tan had been under Pony’s influence since she was 16 years old and did not commit the offences for profit.

“She stood to gain nothing (financially) from agreeing to assist Pony,” said the lawyer.

“Jia Yan has now understood that she was under the clutches of Pony for a major part of her life. Having finally broken away from Pony, Jia Yan now had much potential to succeed in life,” Thrumurgan said.

The defence urged the court to jail Tan for 18 months.

However, DJ Yap noted that while Tan may have been pressured by Pony, there was no evidence to show that Tan was under duress.

The prosecution sought 36 months’ jail for Tan, whom it said had “played a pivotal role in coordinating and executing the scheme” by attending the examination to live-stream the exam questions.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Vadivalagan Shanmuga added that there was a need for a strong deterrent signal for potential like-minded offenders.

“Both locally and internationally, the matter has captured the attention of mainstream media and this has seriously tarnished Singapore’s reputation as an education hub,” said the prosecutor.

Tan earlier pleaded guilty to 27 charges related to being part of a conspiracy to conceal from the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) that six students – aged between 17 and 20 – had received assistance while taking their exams, thus inducing the board to accept the students’ scripts as legitimate.

Facts of the case

The six students involved in the case were private candidates who sat for papers such as Mathematics Paper 1 and 2, English Paper 1 and 2, and the Science Physics/Chemistry Revised Practical Paper.

Between 19 October and 24 October 2016, the students sat for exams while fitted with Bluetooth devices which the Zeus team would use to convey the answers through.

The devices were linked to mobile phones hidden under their clothing. The team also equipped each student with a skin-coloured earphone.

Tan herself would have a smartphone affixed to her chest with Scotch tape, with the device hidden from view under a layer of clothing, like a jacket.

Tan would attend the exams as a private candidate and use the Facetime app to send a live feed of the paper back to the other members of her team. From the live stream, the other team members would work out the answers and transmit them to the students via the disguised earphones.

The operation went without a hitch until one of the candidates, Chen Yi, was caught by an invigilator who heard unusual sounds being emitted from him. This was during the English Paper 1 exam on 24 October.

After the exam, Chen was escorted to the invigilators’ holding room where he was asked to remove his vest, which revealed the concealed mobile phone.

The invigilator later discovered the other devices on Chen’s body after noticing the unusual bulges around his collarbone under his T-shirt.

Chen then confessed to what he had done and the SEAB was notified.

The students had signed a contract that guaranteed full refunds if they failed their O-level exams and subsequently failed to get a place in a local polytechnic.

As part of the contract, Poh received sums of up to $8,000 and admission fees of up to $1,000 for each student referred to her tuition centre. Tan received a monthly salary of $3,000 on top of $1,000 per student for providing them with lodgings.

For each count of cheating, Tan could have been jailed up to three years and/or fined.

She will begin her sentence on 22 April.

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Tutor admits to helping students cheat in 2016 O-level exams