In News



July 26, 2006

Log in to learn


Bangalore is tapping the power of knowledge, connecting students in the U.S. and U.K. to wired Indian teachers at home for lessons sans blackboards and notebooks, reports BHUMIKA K.

ALL THE WEB'S A CLASSROOM Some 80 per cent of students who approach Tutor Vista want personalised help to improve their grades.

Students in the U.S. and U.K. don't burn the proverbial midnight oil anymore. Teachers in India do it for them.

Bangalore is now home to another outsourcing industry Knowledge or Education Process Outsourcing (KPO) that offers "anytime, anywhere education on any subject". Whatever the name may suggest, it simply implies having an online tutor across the seas to help do projects, homework, study for exams, take tests and have difficult lessons explained. Much like what your tuition teacher did when you were in school only he or she came home or you went to theirs. Virtual classes today cut across continents that may separate teacher and student.

Pressure on students to perform, up their grades and marks, take innumerable entrance exams, get and retain jobs in industries that are ironically largely outsourced, is driving students in the U.S. and U.K. to seek private tuition, ushering in an era of big-time e-tutoring.

Tutor Vista is a Bangalore-based KPO that has been e-tutoring over 500 students in the U.S. and U.K., specially in subjects that are in great demand Math and English. Science, apparently, comes third! Its youngest student at present is a six-year-old and the oldest, a 42-year-old studying for his GMAT. So whether it's school or a competitive exam for entry into college like the SAT and GRE, there's demand for one-to-one coaching.

Expansion plans

While this service is right now available only to students in the U.K. and U.S., Tutor Vista plans to provide e-tutoring to students in India too in another three months, starting with Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. In India, it will target board exams and entrance exams to professional courses, including medical and engineering.

"We researched around 25 American parents before we started this service. We asked them if they were OK with their kids being taught by Indian tutors. Two-third of the responses were neutral, and one-third positive. Indians are generally considered nerdy; so two respondents even said they wouldn't choose an Indian tennis coach for their kid perhaps, but in matters of education, they would," says K. Ganesh, founder and CEO of Tutor Vista. "For once we are not stealing jobs, but we are helping their students graduate. Education is a big concern in the U.S. now and we are only helping their kids retain jobs. We are touching the consumer and not the corporate, so there is no backlash," he says reassuringly.

Moreover when it came to the touchy subject of accent, the parents' concern was more that their kids be understood by teachers rather than the other way round, as many students had already adapted to Asian teachers in schools. That saves Indian teachers the trouble of accent training that has been a much-talked-about part of a call-centre job. They also don't have to assume pseudonyms.

"Communication is important; but accent is not as important as in a call centre, where talk time takes up 90 per cent of the call time. In e-tutoring, talking takes up about 20 per cent of the total time. The rest of the time the student thinks, works or is himself talking," explains Ganesh. "In fact it's a challenge to get 40- and 50-year-old teachers to understand the slang that these kids use!"

Tutor Vista right now has over 60 teachers based in Bangalore, Chennai, Vizag, Agra, Varanasi and other cities, working out of their homes. Recruitment, training and certification of teachers is largely done online. The curriculum is made available and teachers only need to adapt to newer pedagogy or methods of teaching. "In India we mostly go by rote, but their system is based on examples and illustrations," says Ganesh. Some 80 per cent of students who approach it want personalised help to improve their grades. Many at the college level need help just before exams! The remaining are high achievers who want to specialise, or get into colleges like Harvard. Ganesh makes is clear that the teachers don't do the students' assignments and projects but only guide them to work on them. Interestingly, 40 per cent of the students are of Asian origin.

Love of teaching

Lalitha Venkatesan has over 30 years of teaching experience and was the vice-principal of a school besides running her own coaching centre. The 60-year-old has been tutoring students from grade seven to nine and two fourth-graders in math and English on Tutor Vista for the last three months. "I love teaching and I wanted to spend my time usefully. But at the same time I didn't want to do anything that would affect my family life. I found school administration too hectic, with weekends being taken up by seminars and meetings," says Lalitha, who moved into Bangalore recently to be able to care for her young grandchild. Though she admits that teaching a child without a face is a disadvantage, nothing else really changes. She works part-time and takes classes between 7.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. and then again from 10.30 p.m. to 11.30 p.m.

The opportunity pays well too. Ganesh says typically they pay between Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 13,000 for full-time work or Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 per hour. Working from home means no travel costs or commuting time. Of course, the downside is that the teachers must be online in sync with the U.S. and U.K. students' schedules read late nights and the wee hours. The whole idea is to put two people together for example they even have a tutor in Hong Kong teaching Chinese to an American student. "Teachers don't want to take up clerical jobs in call centres. Many of them teach because they are passionate about teaching; not for the money," says Ganesh.

Students are charged $100 per month for unlimited hours of tuition, which compares very economically with the $40 per hour they would have to shell out for similar e-tutoring services abroad. In India the company is looking at charging around Rs. 999 for the same kind of monthly deal. Its website: www.tutorvista.com and www.tutorvista.co.uk

About TutorVista


TutorVista's mission is to provide world class tutoring and high-quality content to students around the world. TutorVista is the premier online destination for affordable education-anytime, anywhere, in any subject. Students access TutorVista from the convenience of their home or in school and use TutorVista's comprehensive lessons and question bank to master any subject with access to a live tutor around the clock. The TutorVista idea: help students to excel in school and at competitive examinations. The management team consists of professionals from education, training and Internet fields whose expertise spans eLearning, instructional design, technology-based learning, professional services management, and Internet technologies. For more information, go to www.tutorvista.com.