E-tutoring: Answer to homework blues?


American students having trouble with pesky math equations or intricate English grammar are increasingly turning to tutors all the way in India for help with their homework.

The tutors are part of a growing army of teachers being recruited across the Asian giant to dispense their knowledge online to US kids.

At TutorVista, a Bangalore-based company that launched US services last November, customers pay $100 a month for unlimited hours of e-tutoring on a variety of subjects, ranging from physics to history.

The price represents a fraction of the $ 40-100 an hour parents typically have to pay for face-to-face tutoring sessions or the average $40 charged by US-based online tutors.

“We see TutorVista as a business to make education affordable to the masses,” Krishnan Ganesh, the company’s founder and chairman, told AFP in a telephone interview. “It’s a big anomaly that the US produces the maximum number of Nobel laureates (...) and yet the education system is in crisis at the school level.”

Ganesh said that 1,900 Americans, the youngest being six years old, have so far enrolled in TutorVista, with most seeking help for math and English, followed by science. The company recently also began offering its services in Britain and plans to expand in India, China and Australia.

Ganesh, 44, who has a background in engineering and management, said the majority of the 170 teachers his company employs are based in India, while a few are in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. They are all college educated and many are retired teachers. All undergo extensive training programmes that cover the US school curriculum and teaching methodology as well as slang words and US jargon, Ganesh said. The students communicate with their teachers by using voice-over-Internet systems and a whiteboard, which allows the two parties to share the same computer screen.

“It’s not that US schools are not good or that the teachers are not good,” Ganesh said, in commenting about his growing business. “It’s just that the students are not getting personalised attention, they are not getting one-on-one time.”

Brown Varghese, a business analyst with LearnMatics, another e-tutoring service provider that recently began operating in the US, said online tutoring offers students an affordable way to have an edge that can lead to better grades and help them get into college. “It’s supplemental education,” said Varghese, whose company is based in Pennsylvania but employs tutors in India.

Prisa Zachariah, who is taking math and English classes from LearnMatics to help her with standardised college entrance exams, said she finds the three hours of tutoring she gets a week convenient and practical. “It’s really very helpful,” said the 16-year-old high school student from Pennsylvania. “It’s one-on-one and the tutors make sure you really understand.”

Gaurav Chenji, another 16-year-old high school student from Michigan, enrolled with TutorVista for help with his math, English and physics homework. He said his grades have improved since he began taking about eight hours of tutoring a week in September. “I was having a little trouble with English grammar and they worked on that,” he said. “My grades went from A to A plus.”

Ganesh said he believes e-tutoring is a multi-billion-dollar industry just waiting to be tapped and he plans to launch online tutoring for Spanish and Chinese in the near future.

“We ultimately see ourselves as part of a family’s monthly budget,” he said. “You spend $ 40 a month on cable, you spend on your monthly water and electricity bill and tutoring should be one more item in your monthly budget.”