The following is a typical scene that many families in Japan will have recently experienced, and probably not for the first time: It’s August 31, the last day of summer vacation and the fall semester is starting in less than 24 hours. The kids who played all month suddenly realize that they have to do 40 pages of kanji and math drills, write a book report for a book they haven’t read, and fill in 30 days’ worth of journal entries–an assignment that they dutifully kept up with for all of the first week of summer break. They clamor for help, and despite the scoldings and I-told-you-so’s, “nice” parents and the more responsible siblings reluctantly pitch in.
Sure, the above isn’t an exemplary approach to avoiding bad grades, but recently an even more dubious method has been getting a lot of attention: online businesses have been offering to do your child’s homework and school projects for a fee! While the homework-by-proxy racket is nothing new, recent media coverage of the growing enterprise has brought to light this questionable practice and its appalling popularity among elementary and junior high school students.
What does this teach, and not teach, future adults? Why are parents taking advantage of these services for their young children? One twisted reason will probably surprise you.
▼ An example of a homework-by-proxy website, called TSK Service. They tackle anything from art projects to college term papers!
Image: TSK Service
An online search with the keyword “宿題代行” (shukudai daikou, or homework by proxy) quickly produces a plethora of web-based companies. Prices vary, some charging 500 yen (~US $4.75) per page for drills, 3,000 yen ($28.47) for a 400-character book report, or 5,000 yen ($47.45) for a research project. Many sites try to attract business with phrases like “Essays will be written by professionals, not students!” and “Contact us even for one annoying math problem!”
A reporter, whose son just couldn’t do his book report or watercolor assignment, decided to look into these services for the sake of journalism (though the boy certainly lucked out there!) and was stunned by what he unearthed. It turns out that many companies provide work that matches your child’s age as well as mimic youngsters’ handwriting. He could also request a specific level of achievement, as in competition-worthy essays or artworks. Most surprising was the fact that the first three websites he contacted had to turn him down because they were overloaded with work orders. Understandably, the end of summer and winter breaks are peak seasons for these establishments.
The sixth company he emailed finally accepted, and because his was an urgent request he had to pay extra: 10,000 yen ($94.89) for a five-page book report and 8,000 yen ($75.91) for the summer-themed watercolor. He was told that payment was required only after receiving the finished work, which abated his worries about being scammed. Sure enough, three days later he a book report on a classic short story and a rather impressive painting (for a seventh grader) of a field of sunflowers arrived in the mail.
Now another worry arose: what would happen if the teacher decided to enter the painting in an art competition?
1. “Homework has a point because you work hard on it yourself!”
Image: Non Non Biyori, episode 6, via Crunchyroll
Many online commenters were shocked that such businesses existed, and even worse, were thriving. They pointed out the ridiculousness of this practice, saying “The parents are stunting their kids’ growth!”, “I believe parents shouldn’t even help, but this is much worse,” and “The kids are bound to fail tests this way; how is this benefiting them?” Indeed, not only does having others solve problem sets for you defeat the purpose of such work, but children would be missing out on all of the creative brainstorming and problem-solving opportunities that larger-scope projects provide.
2. “Work you don’t want to do is a part of life! If you’d rather play, then at least deal with the consequences.”
Quite a few brought up the fact that much of schoolwork isn’t about the actual subject matter, but about learning skills like time management, meeting deadlines, and dealing with unpleasant tasks. One said, “If something doesn’t interest you, just do a slapdash job and turn it in. If you can’t manage that, you won’t be able to do anything in life.” Others mentioned that being scolded by a teacher or feeling embarrassed in class may be a life lesson in itself. “I want my kids to grow up honest,” someone else declared. “If they think an assignment is truly pointless, I hope they at least have the cojones to say that to a teacher and accept a zero! ”
3.“Do you get that you’re lying? People these days don’t realize how their actions affect others around them.”
Image: Silver Spoon Season 1, episode 4, from Crunchyroll
Parents who utilize homework-by-proxy services may be exhibiting a form of affluenza; they don’t seem to realize, or care, that they are letting their children take ownership of someone else’s work, and assignments are no longer reflective of the students’ thoughts, ideas, and abilities. What if a child were to work really hard on an essay or painting, only to lose to some adult in a competition? Unfortunately, a news program recently revealed that one proxy business had in fact swept a student art contest, and that the parents were still happy with their kids’ awards. Bewildered citizens lamented, “What’s this world coming to? How can you be happy about winning first place if you didn’t even work on it.”
4. “We’re teaching grade-schoolers that money solves everything?!”
Though not to condone the practice, it’s one thing for adult college students to decide to buy a professionally written term paper with their own money, and quite another for sixth-graders to shirk their obligations and then discover that they can still avoid the repercussions, as long as their parents shell out some cash. Do some parents no longer value effort and the satisfaction felt by accomplishing a difficult task with your own strength? One netizen joked wryly, “Soon teachers will be sending out handouts to the parents, saying ‘Please do not pay professionals to handle your child’s work.’”
5. The flip-side
While no specific percentages are given, further research revealed that although some parents admit to relying on these services because they don’t want to look over their kids’ homework, quite a few pay professionals so that their kids can focus on studying for elite junior high and high school entrance exams, without being bogged down by inane projects. Perhaps to these parents, this is the same as paying for tutors and heaps of study guides in order to get ahead. And if their kids can manage cram school and pass important tests, they must have acquired enough life skills without all that homework, right?
In the same vein, devil’s advocates argued, “If the point of homework is to turn it in, what’s the difference?” Some flippantly said that the kids are learning street smarts and problem-solving skills, as well as the merits of delegating duties. “It’s ethically wrong but if a high school kid uses his own money to get by without any adults catching on, then that’s a life skill right there.”
Finally, others questioned the morals of the actual business owners. “I understand about supply and demand but this is still sad,” said one commenter regretfully. However, like UKEssays.com, many of these entrepreneurs insist that they’re only providing study aids and references to help with students’ grades. But who wants to bet that a lot of students aren’t even reading over the work that they buy and turn in as their own?
For example, one website called ShukudaiHelp3 proudly thanked its “supporters” for a busy 2014 summer season. They went on to say that since their inception 10 years ago, they have been providing solutions to people’s lives, and implied that they are only providing information that any student would be glad to have access to. When asked their opinion on what they do, they stated that while it’s not good to avoid all of life’s challenges, it’s not wrong to rely on proxy services in times of emergency and to lead an “efficient” student life.
Unfortunately, that website was started by a group of high schoolers who wanted to contribute to society despite their non-adult status; somewhere along the line it seems like their good intentions became distorted, only to reemerge as self-contradiction. Still, some are inclined to think that homework-by-proxy services will have no measurable effect on society in the long run. For families with money, will these businesses become an indispensable part of childhood one day, as natural as asking a grown-up for help or (try not to do this, kids!) copying a friend’s answers? And would you feel slightly cheated if you found out that I hired a professional writer for this piece? Just kidding.