THAT straight-A university undergraduate helping your child with his homework may not actually be as qualified as you think.
With no formal checks in place, many tutors are getting away with lying about their resumes, turning Cs into As, polytechnic courses into university degrees and plucking teaching experience out of thin air.
And some tuition agents are encouraging them to do so.
'It's easy to get away with lying,' said National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Stephanie Luo, 21. 'I've never been asked to produce my certificate.'
The former Anglo-Chinese Junior College student had a B average, but got two tutoring jobs by passing herself off as a straight-A Hwa Chong student.
While tuition centres and their teachers have to be registered with the Ministry of Education (MOE), individual tutors do not need to be, nor do agents who find jobs for tutors.
In some cases, it is the agents who propose the charade.
Ms Amanda Hobday, 22, a third-year business student at the Singapore Institute of Management, was advised by her agent to lie about her teaching experience. The agent was one of many she had called and she could not remember who it was.
She told The Sunday Times: 'I was teaching only one student and juggling school. But the agent told me to tell parents I was a full-time tutor with many students.'
On another occasion, she was asked to inflate her age by two years.
'Even before I asked why I had to lie, the agent went on about how parents have many requirements, like the tutor must be an NUS student of a certain age and with good grades.'
With the demand for tuition growing, the problem has only become worse. In 2004, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received only two complaints against private tutors. Last year, that number shot up to 14. However, as Case handles only complaints against companies, it was forced to turn away the complainants.
Some 1,200 private schools are currently registered with the MOE, most of them tuition centres. Tutors estimate that for every registered teacher, there are two fly-by-night ones.
Hardly surprising, considering how easy it is to set up as a tutor or an agent.
'For the agent, all you need is a phone number and a small ad in the paper,' said Mr Lai Wei Chang who handles the marketing for tuition centre manytutors.com". 'There is nearly no start-up capital.'
Every day the newspapers carry several thumbnail-size ads offering tuition or recruiting teachers. Most of these ads do not even have the name of a company, just someone's name and a phone number. School-leavers awaiting their O- or A-level results often find students through these channels.
According to Mr Lai, tuition agents can make up to seven tutor-student matches a day at the start of the school year. The agents take in roughly $100 for each successful match, a 50 per cent cut of the tutor's fees for the first month.
And since there is no long-term commitment to the parent or tutor, many agents are more than happy to cut corners.
Of 25 tuition agent ads The Sunday Times responded to, not one requested academic certificates for verification.
When contacted a second time and asked why they did not bother to do any checks, they said they trusted the tutors and left the checking to the parents.
Said one, a Madam Liaw, 54, who refused to give her full name: 'There is no point for the tutor to lie because if you are not a good teacher, it shows. You cannot lie about that.'
Still, the findings were an eye-opener for many parents.
Said housewife L.W. Teo, 48, who has four school-going children: 'It never occurred to me to check the qualifications of the young tutors, because I trusted the tuition agents.'
A few bad experiences, however, have left her determined to hire only proven professionals. One tutor disappeared after two lessons despite being paid for the full month. Another turned out to know less maths than her student, while a third spent most of the lesson time talking about her personal life.
Said Mr Tay Chor Ter, 49, vice-chairman of the Association of Parent Support Groups' pro tem committee: 'Parents are anxious to get their kids better results and that's why there's a very high demand for teachers. But how do we know these tuition teachers are qualified to teach? It's a very scary market.'
He encourages all parents to approach the hiring of the tutors like any job interview.
'At the very minimum, the tutors should be asked to bring along their documents for the first lesson. Any tutor worth his salt will not have a problem with that.'
This view is shared by the MOE, education experts and Case. A spokesman for the ministry urged parents to check the 'background, qualifications and experience of such tutors before engaging them'.
Tao Nan School principal Tony Tan, who is also a member of the education advisory council Community and Parents in Support of Schools (Compass), agreed, saying that the parents must put in the 'check and balance'.
'The most sensible thing to do is to monitor the private tutor yourself. If they are no good, you can terminate them any time,' he said.
|Is this article useful to you?