Students in New York or London may pay someone online to write their essays. However, it is possible that the work will end up being done in Kenya. BBC Trending reports in Nairobi about foreigners cheating by hiring ghost writers
Kennedy was a teacher in his former life, but he has made his living as an academic writer for the last five years. He says, “I do academic writing.”
He is part of an international online industry that is booming in Kenya. What Kennedy and other Kenyans refer to as “academic writing”, is what the rest of the globe calls cheating.
Kennedy and his team will help you with your assignment if you are a student, a teacher, or just plain lazy.
Then, you hand it in and pretend that it is your own work.
These middlemen run “essay mill” websites that allow students to post fraudulent jobs. These profiles of writers looking to be hired are filled with white faces. These pictures give the impression that the piece will be written in English by an academic from the West.
The pictures are often fake, as is the case with many things in this industry. It’s very likely that an essay ordered online will be written in Kenya by someone who is a student or graduate.
These sites are often located in the US or Eastern Europe. Their cut may be up to half of the total fee. The amount the customer pays will vary depending on whether it is an essay or a full-blown Ph.D thesis.
According to researchers who study “contract cheating”, Kenya is a major hub. It is a country that speaks English and has a strong education system. However, there are often limited economic opportunities for young people.
There is money for those who are struggling to make ends meet by regurgitating knowledge to foreigners. Kennedy was an easy choice to join this industry.
He says, “How much I used earn as a teacher was so small compared to what it is now.”
The average monthly wage for a 30-year-old is around 150,000 Kenyan Shillings, or approximately $1360.
According to him, the writers he hires can complete as many as 200 essays and online exams per month. He adds, “You log in as a student to do the exams for them.”
How does he feel about the fact he is helping to undermine the integrity education around the globe?
He admits to feeling morally compromised as a former teacher, but says that he works for the money. He says, “I care but what do you care more about than my life? Sometimes you have to live first before you can think about the morals.”
Kennedy knows that his work can help customers to get a degree that will land them a job that pays many times as much. Then, you realize that it’s not against them. Sometimes, it’s a fight against poverty.
Although there are many essay writers available to hire in other countries as well, the Kenyans have created their own subculture.
Telegram and Facebook have “academic writing” groups where software and jobs can be traded. Some groups have thousands of members. These members range from middle-class professionals looking for extra money to students in higher education.
David is one of 10 students in his last year at university who, he claims, are funding their education this way.
He says, “My parents are not able to sustain me staying in school.” “So I saw that I had to find a way to support myself and maybe contribute to the family.”
David has written around 360 essays for American and British customers over the last two years while completing his degree. At 250 shillings, or PSR1.65 or $2.28 per page, he can produce 15 pages per day. I might work night and day from Monday through Friday, but I take the weekend off to study.
He is able to rent land in his village, and is now hiring labor to help him grow his crops.
David is sub-contracted to someone more senior in the industry, who has a writer account on one the major foreign essay mill websites. It is not easy to get an account. Some companies require applicants to pass academic tests.
Accounts with many five-star customer reviews can be valuable commodities that are sold to academic writing groups.
Students who cheat may be deceived by this. Students may believe they are receiving essays written by someone with glowing testimonials. It could be someone who purchased an account with a great reputation.
Kennedy says, “I have purchased more than 10 accounts.” Some accounts cost as high as 500,000 Kenyan shillings (PS3,300, or $4550). There is no other way to get clients.
David dreams of owning an account after he graduates. He’s only 23 years old and already helping to bring on the next generation. He mentors novice writers and gives them easy jobs to get started. “Out of it, we have made friendships. We help each other.” It is a growing industry.”
Some people are less positive about the profession. John went on to study academic writing after graduating. After landing the job of his dreams in media, he hopes to get rid of academic writing.
“There are nurses who can do nursing assignments. I would not want to be taken to the hospital by someone who had paid for them to do the exams. It’s very dangerous. He says it gives him goose bumps. It should be eliminated.
Dr Gladys Nyachieo is a sociology lecturer at Nairobi’s Multimedia University. She believes that the most important responsibility for combating contract cheating rests with wealthy countries whose students are the main consumers. There wouldn’t be any supply if there wasn’t a demand.
She says, “If they could do anything about it, in terms making it outlawed from the other side of it, then it would decrease.”
Some countries are taking steps to take action. Australia has banned the sale of essays since last year. Similar legislation is being looked at in England. It’s unclear how effective this legislation will be in stopping trade that crosses international boundaries so easily.
Dr Nyachieo continues to work to make things better closer to home.
“I tell my students that it is not ethical. She says it’s wrong. “But that’s all that I can do. Some people find it a matter for survival. It is a bit of a dilemma.