From ‘Private tutor who charges high fees: I was in gifted education programme’ 29 July 2012, article by Jane Ng, Sunday Times
A private tutor charging high fees to help children get into the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) has been warned to stop telling lies about himself. Mr Kelvin Ong Wee Loong, 36, has long claimed that he was admitted into the gifted programme as a child and went on to be a teacher in the programme as well.
Now the Education Ministry has refuted those claims, saying it has checked and found no record that he was ever a pupil or teacher in the programme. Nor is he even a qualified teacher. The ministry has told him to remove the lies from the website of his AristoCare centre, and he has complied.
…This is not the first time that the ministry has taken issue with Mr Ong. In 2010, it was alerted to AristoCare’s website after it advertised the sale of the 2009 GEP Screening and Selection Test papers. The ministry checked and found that those were not the actual papers. It subsequently alerted parents that there was a website giving the impression that it had past GEP papers for sale, but they were not genuine.
It is not known if he will face further action. Asked what he had to say about the ministry’s latest checks, Mr Ong told The Sunday Times it was his mother who had told him that he had been in the gifted programme. ‘I’m not very sure. According to my mum, I was from GEP. When MOE called me, I tried to check but couldn’t because I don’t have records from the past,’ he said.
Now it’s common for tuition agencies to hard-sell when it comes to advertising just like any business, and God knows how many private tutors out there are conning parents into buying their programmes with exaggerated qualifications. In a previous post, I questioned what Kelvin Ong was doing being a ‘GEP trainer’ having supposedly gone through the system, and here he confesses following a background check (rightly so and about time, MOE) that he never really had any teaching experience at all. How flabbergasting. Would you pay for a flight manned by an unlicensed pilot? No? Because entrusting Ong with your kid is the promise of business class without the guarantee of you ever reaching your destination.
Instead of the whiz-kid-turned-GEP mentor persona that he created for himself, what we have here is really a shrewd businessman exploiting the tuition craze, emptying the pockets of gullible, and desperate, parents with a ruse that appears to me as clearly a case of false, manipulative advertising. In other words, a liar and a fraud. If I were a parent who spent my hard earned money on his bogus programmes and didn’t get anything out of it, I’d probably want to recoup my losses by slapping a lawsuit and set this scamming liar’s pants on fire. I might as well have consulted a celebrity crystal ball gazer for GEP exam questions. In 1990, a tuition con artist and jobless woman fleeced customers of more than $10k, landing herself a six-month jail sentence (Tuition-scam woman gets six months jail, 2 June 1990, ST). In 2001, a Today reader was deceived by a tutor with a D7 for English but told to lie by the agency that she had a distinction instead. It remains to be seen if any legal action will be taken further here other than ‘cleaning’ up the website.
But that’s not the end of it. Making false claims isn’t the only charge that we should level at Ong. What’s more criminal in my opinion is a grown 36 year old man bringing his MUMMY into it. Not only is your child in the hands of a serial liar, but 1) Someone with an affliction of selective amnesia, in which case, you shouldn’t trust his ability to even teach ABCs, not to mention Maths Olympiad problems, and 2) Someone who blames his mother for implanting false GEP memories into his brain. For $1K lessons you would expect someone with not just the smarts and experience, but at least some shred of moral fibre, and the decency to leave one’s parents out of a con job of your own making as well.
Nonetheless, this nab is a timely wake up call for parents to be wary and know the difference between tuition ‘agencies’ and ‘centres’. Agencies are profit-driven commercial entities registered with ACRA, while centres are registered as schools by MOE. Don’t be seduced by flashy qualifications, colourful testimonials (which seem to be faked in this case) or regal company names. If their expensive educational methods are like psychic lobotomies turning your kid into a Night of the Living Dead zombie, you have every right to complain to CASE. A little official snooping around may be more useful than trawling social media platforms or checking with friends who have already invested in agencies like AristoSCAM. It’s also possible that your kid may be better off emotionally and psychologically without any tuition at all, and that our education system, together with anxious parents, contribute to a festering nation-wide addiction to tuition serving as a lucrative market for agencies making a quick buck out of a chronic fear of being left behind , like drug dealers selling users adulterated crack. If there’s any ‘help’ to be sought, it’s for parents so blinded by kiasuism and peer pressure that it doesn’t matter how much it costs, even if the agency’s founder looks like the Riddler from a Batman movie.
Postscript: In a follow up Sunday Times article (Not a maths grad either..5 Aug 2012), it was revealed that Ong was never a NUS ‘double Math major’ grad either and was really a Nanyang Poly trained physiotherapist, apparently applying the skill of manipulation to lucrative effect. Turns out that Aristocare is actually a home-run scam where Ong crammed his clients in his BEDROOM. Sleazy! Surely someone would have sounded him out, if they were the least bit concerned of their kids’ safety. As if pushing blame on his own mother wasn’t enough, Ong pointed out that the qualifications in the credits of his assessment book was a printing error. According to the ‘About the Author’ section in the preface of his ‘Know your Maths Methods!’ book, Ong supposedly has a Postgraduate Diploma in EDUCATION as well. What, no Grandmaster Wizard Professor of Hogwarts? One of his methods is called ‘The Alphabet Method’. It looks like damn ALGEBRA to me.
Meanwhile the Aristocare site is permanently shut down, with the error message ’404 Not Found’, which describes Ong’s degree perfectly. If there’s a lesson to be learnt from this fiasco, it’s that no matter how desperately kiasu you are, it always pays to do your own homework first before placing your trust in bogus tutors who teach out of their bedrooms. It also means that if your child did in fact score in GEP after hothousing in an unqualified person’s bedroom, it’s likely that he or she could have done it on their own without anyone’s help.