Outsourcing Homework

The Washington Post reports on another industry that is feeling the effects of outsourcing: education, and tutoring in particular. In the US, there are millions of dollars available under the No Child Left Behind Act to firms that provide remedial tutoring. And where there’s money, there’s people that want to make more money. And where people want to make more money, they need to lower the costs (click picture for enlargement):

When Studyloft.com, a Chicago-based tutoring company with more than 6,000 clients, advertised in Bangalore for tutors with master’s degrees, more than 500 people applied for 38 spots, according to Bikram Roy, the firm’s founder and chief executive. “There is just a huge hotbed of talent there in math and science,” he said. “India has the best tutors — the best teachers — in the world.”

Amita (15) for instance is being tutored by Lekha,

a $20-an-hour tutor who helps Amita with her geometry homework during twice-a-week, one-hour sessions. Using an electronic white board and a copy of Amita’s textbook, Kamalasan guides her through the nuances of cross-multiplication, triangle similarity and assorted geometry proofs. Amita is one of 400 students enrolled with Growing Stars, a California-based company whose 50 tutors, most of them with master’s degrees, work in an office in Cochin, India.

The demand for overseas tutors in the United States is creating a thriving industry in India. According to Educomp Solutions, a tutoring company in New Delhi, 80 percent of India’s $5 million online tutoring industry is focused on students in the United States. But it doesn’t stop with tutoring:

Some companies are thinking of educational outsourcing on a much broader scale than just tutoring. The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is outsourcing the grading of some papers to Smarthinking, a District-based online tutoring company that works with 70,000 students at 300 schools across the country and has both tutors in the United States and abroad. “Essentially we are acting as the teaching assistant,” said Burck Smith, the firm’s chief executive and co-founder. Right now, about 20 percent of Smarthinking’s 500 tutors are in countries such as India, the Philippines, Chile, South Africa and Israel.

As is the case with the outsourcing of the automobile industry, of tax returns and of drug trials, this form of outsourcing also has its critics. Rob Weil of the American Federation of Teachers, for instance:

“We don’t believe that education should become a business of outsourcing. When you start talking about overseas people teaching children, it just doesn’t seem right to me.”

A rather surprising statement for someone from the largest education exporting nation in the world…

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