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Online Tutors Just a Click Away

Updated on July 4, 2012
Learning at home
Learning at home | Source

At the end of every school day, ninth-grader Jack Taylor heads home for a session with his tutor.

But Taylor's tutor, Ishwar Subramaniam, doesn't come to his house. In fact, he's never been to America.

Ishwar lives in Bangalore, India -- 9,000 miles from Taylor's California home. A former schoolteacher who says he holds a master's degree; Ishwar is one of a growing number of highly educated Indians now tutoring U.S. students over the Internet.

Students from elementary to graduate school and above or even adults can get help any time of the day or night, from the comfort of their homes. Subjects range from Math to English or even Commercial and vocational subjects, modern and classical languages, voice coaching and music lessons, hobby classes, creative writing, elocution, study skills, public speaking, presentation skills, accent removal, etc.

Driving the trend of outsourcing teaching is cost. Private tutoring in the United States can cost $100 an hour or more. An online session with an Indian tutor runs around $20 an hour -- and can cost much less than that if students sign up for a monthly rate. The rate can even come down to $5- 10 per hour if they sign up with a tutor working independently.

Offshore tutoring companies are still a relatively small segment of the $4 billion U.S. tutoring industry. But they're multiplying fast. Tutoring companies like TutorVista gives all its tutors 60 hours of language and cultural training, to help them better relate to U.S. students including teaching them American slang.Tutors undergo background checks and special training too.

Based on the U.S. students he's tutored, Ishwar says he's come to the conclusion that math "is occupying a low priority in the age group of 5 to 16 in American schools." He's also struck by the "gratitude" his U.S. students express for his efforts on their behalf. In India, he said, "it's taken for granted that teachers have to do a good job."

Students need the right equipment -- a computer with fast Internet access, a headset with a microphone, and a tablet with a pen.

The service also can be impersonal -- particularly if students don't get to use the same tutor each time. And communication glitches are almost inevitable.

When Taylor started using the service, he had trouble understanding his tutor's accent. Same was the case with Ishwar Subramaniam. He took some time to understand Jack’s accent.

Still, he said the benefits, like the fact that he can attend his tutoring sessions in his pajamas, outweighed the negatives. And he said the results at school had been noteworthy: "It's made me more prepared and more confident." His mom concurs. "It's just his attitude, the triumphant feeling he has."

Relief for parents struggling to help their children with difficult homework is now just a click away – thanks to online tutoring. A subject matter expert or so called tutor is available at a time convenient for the student.

A generation that is comfortable with online services seems to be taking to the service. “They’ve grown up on the Internet. They can’t imagine life without it, and so online tutoring is a perfectly acceptable form of instruction for them,” said Dennis Gooler, assistant to the library director of San Diego Public Library.

Six days a week in the wee hours of the morning, Saraswati Reddy logs into her home computer. The homemaker and tutor from Hyderabad rises early to help American high school students write English term papers, prepare S.A.T. essays or finish homework assignments. Reddy is working with students from Atlanta and New Jersey. She logs into the Tutoring portal, uses webchat to greet her student. “Hello, Brittney," she says. Her student responds back immediately. They switch to audio, and Reddy asks, “How have you been?” A polite sentence or two later, she queries, “How may I help you today?” The tenth grader has a quiz on Stephen Crane’s "The Red Badge of Courage" the next day. The two discuss the novel and its characters. Reddy probes Brittney on a few chapters and asks her several questions. She writes the themes in the novel on the digital pad and they discuss as the words show up on their respective computer whiteboards.

Another homemaker and a tutor, Pushpa from Cochin teaches a 60+ year old Mexican and a 20 something Japanese Hindi. Though she teaches them Hindi language, she gets questions on Indian History and Culture. She uses a headset containing a microphone and a speaker in conjunction with voice chat applications like skype or google talk for communication. An online whiteboard or a shared screen where the lesson are posted and discussed works just like our blackboards. She also prepares presentations for explaining concepts. She works only 4-5 hrs a day and earns $25 - $35 per day. And her qualification is diploma in Hindi.

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