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Log in and Learn : More and more teachers are learning that it pays to move into the virtual classroom.

By Narayan Krishnamurthy.

Bangalore -Jan-16,2006.
Some months ago, there was a popular cartoon featuring an irate American father telling his son: "No! You can't outsource your homework to Bangalore." Funny? Indisputably. Unreal? Unlikely? Not quite. It could be a matter of time before homework is outsourced; teaching, we'll have you know, already is. Ask Leela Bai Nair, 49. In the dead of night, when most people in Kochi are asleep, Nair and her colleagues are making their way to school. And half way across the globe, it's evening in sunny Beverly Hills, and Nair's students are just logging in. Welcome to the age of the outsourced tutor.

"Global remote working is the tool to get into unexplored niches and there's a huge market out to be tapped," says K. Ganesh, chairman, TutorVista, the latest entrant into the e-tutoring business.

Virtual classroom. But what is e-tutoring? And how does it work? An e-tutor is essentially a modern-day version of the old-fashioned 'tuition teacher' who used to visit students at home after school and coach them in 'difficult' subjects like math and science. The e-tutor visits students online–virtual classes take place even when a continent separates teacher and student. Students are happy to log in and learn and teachers are happy to be able to use their skills remuneratively. Sukanya Mohan, 58, who recently retired from an international school in Bangalore, says: "It offers me the flexibility to work from home and also monitor a curriculum and analysis of what the student wants and how it can be achieved."

And who's responsible for this sudden boom? Ironically, the Bush administration. (Why ironic? Remember that comedy show line about Dubya being devastated by the fire that destroyed both books in the White House library because he hadn't finished colouring one? That's why.) Jokes aside, the US government's NCLB or 'no child left behind' policy has created a huge demand for teachers and tutorials. And unlike other BPO jobs, e-tutoring doesn't take jobs away from Americans–US-based outfits offer similar services, but Indian companies score on cost and quality. "The Americans respect the Indian education system and prefer Indian teachers," says Ganesh.

Most e-tutorials employ experienced teachers, or those with a postgraduate specialisation in the subject. Those with math qualifications are the most sought after. Depending on demand, teachers can work full-time or part-time. Says Dr. Gaurav Bhatnagar, vice president (online tutoring), Educomp Solutions, "We have a pool of full-time teachers, part-time teachers and some whom we can call up in case of a rush in demand."

Advantage student. E-tutoring is big business in India. Today there are e-tutorial centres even in small towns. Says Shantanu Prakash, director, Educomp Solutions, a Delhi-based e-tutorial company: "The demand for teachers to work for us has gone up and there are so many who want to get into this form of teaching I wouldn't be surprised if this takes off in a big way for Indian students as well." It's already happening, with Indian students realising the value of virtual classrooms. They're happy to use the services of an e-tutor before taking exams like SAT, GRE and GMAT. Career Launcher, a test preparation venture in India, offers this service besides e-tutoring kids in the US.

The teacher works odd hours, though most do not mind as they are able to work out of home. Plus there's the satisfaction of helping struggling students. Says 23-year-old Swati Chopra: "I've been teaching graduate courses and co-ordinating courseware. I can already feel the difference I am making in the lives of children half way around the globe."

Adds Nair: "After 23 years of teaching in a school, I can vouch that it is difficult to teach a class with even 20 students, as their understanding levels vary. With e-tutoring, I can gauge the student's level and teach accordingly." This works equally for students; those who find the going hard get ample help, while the bright ones are given every opportunity to stay ahead.

Making money. Job satisfaction is great, but what about pay? Consider this: a primary school teacher in a good school who starts work immediately after graduation and a B.Ed. can earn up to Rs 7,000 a month. Apart from teaching, she has to correct homework and examination papers, besides other activities. In contrast, an online tutor earns a starting salary of Rs 10,000 or so, and because interaction is one-on-one, there's far less administrative work and more time to bond with the student and really teach.

For those teaching specialised subjects online, the pay is Rs 12,000-18,000 per month. Student co-ordinators and counsellors can expect anything from Rs 20,000 to Rs 35,000 a month.

Convenient option. The money's good and job satisfaction's great. What more can a teacher ask for? Flexibility. And that's what e-tutorials are all about. Teachers can go online after school and earn supplementary income. Says Anirudh Phadke, principal consultant-e-learning, Career Launcher India: "Most of our teachers function from home. With the flexibility this offers, many are opting for this form of teaching after school and college hours." Others are happy to give up the brick and mortar classroom for the virtual school and earn even better.

It's still early, and companies are evolving even now. In fact, with the demand for teachers increasing, e-tutorials are planning to move to South East Asian countries, where they plan to teach English to non-English speaking people.

It all started as an online math teaching initiative. Today, e-tutorials cover the full school syllabus, and some companies even offer to cover college curriculum. Apart from preparing students for exams, e-tutorials help them prepare for specialised tests and entrance exams. All a teacher needs is subject knowledge and some basic computer knowledge to get started. And the world becomes one big classroom.

About TutorVista

TutorVista's mission is to provide world class tutoring and high-quality content to students around the world. TutorVista is the premier online destination for affordable education-anytime, anywhere, in any subject. Students access TutorVista from the convenience of their home or in school and use TutorVista's comprehensive lessons and question bank to master any subject with access to a live tutor around the clock. The TutorVista idea: help students to excel in school and at competitive examinations. The management team consists of professionals from education, training and Internet fields whose expertise spans eLearning, instructional design, technology-based learning, professional services management, and Internet technologies. For more information, go to www.tutorvista.com.

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