India's e-tutors for UK Kids

DQI Bureau
New Update

Call centers charge £50 a month for unlimited individual help to

pupils thousands of miles away


When Kelsey Baird began worrying about the complexity of AS-level biology she

got a tutor from India. It is more than 4,000 miles from her boarding school in

Fife to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, but a new e-tutoring system makes the

distance irrelevant.

Across India, hundreds of teachers have been recruited to feed a growing

demand for online tutors. With maths and science teaching in Britain and the US

in crisis, new Indian education companies are rushing to fill the gaps.

Working late into the night to bridge the time difference, the e-tutors give

individual help. Some work in mini-call centers, fielding appeals for help from

children struggling with trigonometry homework. Others sit by computers at home,

soothingly guiding pupils on the other side of the world through the

technicalities of algebra.


A handful of entrepreneurs has spotted the lucrative possibilities of

converting this expertise into services to the West. Online education is

providing a wave of new business.

Krishnan Ganesh sold his call center company to set up Tutorvista, which

launched cheap online tuition services in the UK last month.

'Education is a major preoccupation . There isn't the money

to pay for enough teachers in schools and it's almost impossible for children

to get personalised attention,' he said. 'Tony Blair might be able to afford

private tuition for his children, but most people can't.'


His company offers students unlimited help for £50 a month. 'If they want

to get into Oxford, get a place at a private school, catch up when they're

behind, or just improve their marks, what they need is individual help,'

Ganesh said.

Classes are conducted via a whiteboard that allows tutor and pupil to watch

each other draw symbols and go through equations together on the net, using a

mouse instead of chalk. 'You form a rapport with the whole family. Quite often

the parents will be sitting by the computer trying to learn elementary algebra

alongside their children,' said Anirudh Phadke, general manager of e-tutoring

at Career Launcher, a company offering tuition for the US curriculum.

India's educational standards vary hugely but there is some fine teaching

of maths and science, with a traditional and rigorous approach. 'The real

advantage is that Indian teachers are cheaper,' said Shantanu Prakash,

managing director of Educomp, which teaches Internet maths to American pupils.


India's new online teachers have not been impressed by the standards

achieved by British children. 'They are not really academically fully

skilled,' said Rita Sampson, a former college principal, now teaching English

language online from her Bangalore home. 'There seems to have been a

deterioration in standards. Retention in Indian students is much better.'

Like their call-center colleagues, the teachers go through intensive training

to neutralise the way they speak English and have lessons in British culture.

'Most of the students don't even know that they are being taught by

someone in India. We don't give ourselves Western names, although we are

trained in US accents. Quite often when we tell students in the US that we are

from India, they think we mean Indiana. Their geography is not strong,' Phadke


A glossary of UK slang has been compiled to help tutors navigate the

peculiarities of teenage vernacular - explaining expressions such as 'bunking

off', 'dodgy' and (perhaps less helpfully) 'blimey'.

The Observer