Fri, Feb 25, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Online math tutoring is soon to be a possibility


The offices of Educomp Datamatics in Delhi looks like any other Indian call center, apart from one crucial fact: Its staff are math tutors offering support to students in the US. Welcome to the latest "big thing" in outsourcing.

American schools desperate to improve their students' math grades are hiring Indian companies who provide tutors at a fraction of the cost of American tutors. These tutors sit in New Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore helping youngsters with their math homework or going over already-learnt concepts so that they do not lose ground during the holidays.

"The world over, parents have a problem helping kids with math homework," says Shantanu Prakash, CEO of Educomp Datamatics.

"The kids need help. It's painful. So if they can go to their computer and get someone to guide them and help them, it's a huge relief."

Tutors either speak using headphones or use a whiteboard and digital pencil so that one side can see what the other is writing.

Others -- such as Educom Datamatics tutors -- do not offer a voice service. Here, the tutor and student communicate only by writing on the whiteboard as they go through the stages of solving a problem.

This new form of outsourcing makes sense for a simple reason. Indians generally tend to be good at math which explains why so many of them write software. And India did, after all, invent the zero (it reached European civilization much later through the Arabs).

American schoolchildren, in contrast, tend to do badly in math. According to US statistics, about 40 per cent of 13-14 year-old American students fail to meet the grade in math and, as it happens, English.

Because of the Bush Administration's 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, if schools do not improve their pass percentages, they lose state funding. This has led some schools to turn to American tuition companies for help. Known as Supplemental Education Service providers, some of the larger ones such as, Smart Thinking and eSylvan, can charge up to US$40 an hour. Educomp Datamatics in India, on the other hand, charges only US$20-25 an hour.

It's a developing industry and to date only four or five Indian companies provide online tutors but of the ones which are up and running all are targeting the US.

"It's just so vast," says Satya Narayanan, chairman of New Delhi-based Career Launcher. "We're just warming up. There is a huge dearth of tutors in the US, UK, and Middle East, too."

Narayanan said, "Students want help and don't care where it comes from. They think it's quite funky to be sitting in California being taught by a math teacher in India."

"The image Americans have of Indians is that they are smart, brainy people and so they think the educational system in India must be good. So no one has a problem accepting Indian tutors," says Prakash.

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