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Mothers will do anything to help their kids

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This email came to the Melbourne PHP Users Group today:

Hello Ben I am trying to urgently locate someone who could assist my son with a web programming Uni assignment, which needs to be finished by Friday. The person would be well remunerated. I look forward to your reply.


To which I responded:

Hi Annette, As a former University tutor, I'm abhorred by your request. Please don't take this the wrong way, I'm not trying to be rude or insulting, but your son's University project is designed to test his ability to meet the requirements of his course, and I cannot condone offering assistance in this regard.

Please note that my views might not reflect those of the Melbourne PHP Users Group, but, as a group that promotes learning, I doubt any member would feel differently.

I wish your son the best of luck with his assignment.

Ben Balbo

Outrageous! Update: 2008-10-16 16:16

Reply from Annette:

Hi Ben, thanks for your email. But, as you should have seen, I was asking for assistance tutoring and mentoring not asking for someone to do his assignment for him. There are times when we all need help, and while he left it a little late to seek assistance, I am trying to help him. Don't kids get outside tutoring at all ages these days, from primary school to university level...

My Response:

[Re: misunderstanding the request] I'm afraid your original email didn't carry the sentiment you were striving for. Asking for someone to:

Assist [your] son with a web programming Uni assignment, which needs to be finished by Friday

sounds very different to asking for someone to tutor your son in PHP.

[Re: extra tuition and running out of time]

Absolutely, extra tuition is not uncommon. I think the problem here is the lateness, as you point out. I don't begrudge you trying to help your son, but if he's not able to make adequate use of the, in my experience, extremely accommodating support network of his lecturers and tutors and identify issues in his time management then there are larger issues at stake.

University courses are not solely designed to teach skills to students; there is as much of an emphasis on self learning, time management, communication skills, issue resolution, risk analysis, and so on. Universities teach people how to operate in a working environment. Employers consider University degrees to denote a person has the ability to work independently (whether by themselves or in teams) - something that is not assumed of high school graduates that enter the workforce without a degree.

I say all of this not to assume some position of authority or to be condescending, but to hopefully assist your son in completing his degree and benefit to the fullest extent possible. On a more personal note, I didn't discover or fully comprehend any of this until the final year of my University degree and believe it would have helped me enormously if I had worked on the non-academic skills I should have developed in the previous years.

Regards, Ben Balbo


Yeah, pretty disgraceful. As hypothetical I was actually going to suggest:

Agree, do the work & take the cash, then report the whole thing her son's lecturer/professor.

Not entirely ethical, but I reckon it would probably result in a very swift end to her son's enrollment.

This kind of thing is not unprecedented. I got a text message a couple of years ago that read "Hi. My PHP assignment for uni is due tomorrow. You seem like an expert in this area. I can pay you. Help me please, I'm desperate!"

I suppose at least this student had the nerve to try it on by himself, rather than getting mummy to do his or her dirty work! I referred them to a certain PDF book and recommended that they begin reading from page 1... :-)


Doesn't everyone's mom try to help them in the workplace too?!

Frankly, I don't see the big deal though. She was asking for help, not for you to complete the assignment. Late, sure. But that just means your rates could be higher; if that isn't a business lesson, I don't know what is.

University do not always provide adequate support and self-help facilities. My experience in this regard has been mixed, but there are way too many occasions when my e-mails to lecturers have simply gone unanswered and redressing it through formal channels simply is not tenable.

I'm with Ben 100% on this one.

Assignments are an assessment of a student's ability not just to learn but to comprehend and apply concepts learned through study.

While there is some merit in being entrepreneurial, the student is not only doing himself a disservice, but is detracting from the professionalism of both programmers and the industry by seeking assistance with an assignment.

If there are general questions about PHP I am sure PHPMelb would be happy to answer them, but we draw the line at facilitating cheating. It cheats not only the system, but ourselves.


Hey Scott!

Sure, Mom's always want to help. The first email did, however, imply she wanted us to do the work for her son and that is a very big deal. I agree that there are some people who do not always offer great support, but there is always someone who is willing to help.

Lecturers have other duties in addition to teaching and some don't reply to teaching related emails until they go in to teaching mode - it's a way for them to manage their time.

If it gets to the point where support is hard to find, and redressing it through formal channels is not tenable then there is a good case for extenuating circumstances. Students should not be expected to work unsupported, but they should be expected to learn how to be independent and seek out all options open to them. This does not include asking someone to do your work for you.

Out of interest, why do you say that redressing issues through formal channels is not tenable? What has your experience been?

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