Three years’ jail for Singapore tuition teacher who used FaceTime to help O-Level exam cheats

Tuition teacher Tan Jia Yan was employed at Zeus Education Centre, whose exterior is pictured here. — TODAY file pic
Tuition teacher Tan Jia Yan was employed at Zeus Education Centre, whose exterior is pictured here. — TODAY file pic

SINGAPORE, April 15 — A tuition teacher in Singapore who sat as a private GCE O-Level examination candidate so she could use FaceTime’s video call function to help six Chinese students cheat in their 2016 exams was jailed for three years today.

Tan Jia Yan, 33, was the first in her party of four at the Zeus Education Centre to be dealt with. She was the only accused who admitted to her role in the sophisticated cheating operation, which involved the use of carefully concealed mobile phones and bluetooth devices.

In sentencing the Singaporean, District Judge Kenneth Yap said a tougher prison sentence had to be imposed to protect the sanctity of national exams and uphold the principle of meritocracy here, as he noted that Singapore’s reputation as an education hub was on the line.

“Every year, thousands of students take their O-Level exams. (They and their parents) put in hard work, blood, and sweat,” the judge said.

“The notion that students can buy (results) by resorting to cheating is offensive. It undermines the principle of meritocracy. It can’t be that the rich can procure exam results.”

According to court documents, Tan’s accomplices were: Zeus’ principal Poh Yuan Nie, 53, who is better known as Pony Poh, her niece Fiona Poh, 31, and Chinese national Feng Riwen, 26, who was helping out and conducting classes at Zeus.

The students allegedly involved were identified as: Chen Yi, 21, Chen Xiang, 20, Zhou Zice, 18, Xiao Junze, 20, Zhang Jinlu, 21, and Wang Fangfei, 20.

About the case

The students were allegedly referred to Zeus by Chinese national Dong Xin, 31, a Singapore permanent resident and director of a company, Nou Cheng Pte Ltd. The firm had allegedly signed contracts with the tuition centre stating that Pony Poh would receive S$8,000 (RM24,339) in deposit and S$1,000 in admission fees for each student referral.

However, the catch was that the monies were “fully refundable” if the students failed to pass their O-Level exams and subsequently failed to get into a polytechnic here.

So, for a few exam papers between Oct 19 and 24, Tan smuggled an iPhone into exam halls by affixing it to her chest with scotch tape.

Using the phone’s FaceTime video call function, Tan allowed Feng and Fiona Poh, who were stationed at the tuition centre’s premises, to view the exam questions and work out the answers. The duo and Pony Poh would then call the students individually to read out the answers to them, the court had previously heard.

The students were allegedly outfitted with skin-coloured, bluetooth earphones linked to mobile devices that were well concealed under their clothing and the answers were whispered to them via the devices. 

The court heard that the ruse went undetected until an invigilator heard unusual electronic transmission sounds emitting from one of the students, Chen Yi, who was sitting for the English Paper 1 exam at Tampines Secondary School on Oct 24, 2016.

By then, Tan and her group had allegedly helped the students with the practical paper of the Combined Science (Physics and Chemistry) subject, two Mathematics papers and two papers for the English language.

In seeking an 18-month sentence for Tan, her lawyer R. Thrumurgan said Tan had shown remorse from the outset as her statements to the police included details and admissions.

Tan had also agreed to become a prosecution witness to testify against her alleged accomplices, who had claimed trial. She has also “dissociated” herself from Pony Poh, whom she was under the clutches of “for a major part of her life”, he added.

“Having finally broken away from Pony, Jia Yan now has much potential to succeed in life. This is a one-time mistake in Jia Yan’s life, albeit a grave one, and she will certainly not fall foul of the law in the future,” said Mr Thrumurgan.

He also added that Tan did not commit the offences for monetary reward and stood to gain nothing from agreeing to assist Pony Poh.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Vadivalagan Shanmuga argued that Tan received a salary of S$3,000 from Pony Poh as remuneration, adding that she was paid another S$1,000 for each student she provided lodging for.

The DPP said that the court had to send a “correct signal” to deter such operations. “This has to stop, and nobody should ever try this ever, especially with new technology (available) today,” he added.

District Judge Yap agreed and sentenced Tan to the jail term that the DPP had asked for, noting that he was mindful of her show of remorse.

Tan will begin serving her sentence on April 22 and is currently out on S$20,000 bail. — TODAY