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January 2007

NCLB Spurs Growth in Online Tutoring Options

Information technology is changing the way most professions do business, and education is no different. As the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, the tutoring industry that has mushroomed to support it is going online and outsourcing to other countries.

TutorVista, launched in June 2006, is one such service. The program provides 24-hour online tutoring services for K-12 students and college and graduate students. During a 2005 visit to the U.S., TutorVista founder and CEO Krishnan Ganesh, who lives in India, realized mass-marketing affordable personal tutoring services to American students could be a goldmine.

“While I was in the U.S., what really hit me was the ongoing media discussion about education,” Ganesh said. “I would imagine that people in a country like the U.S. would take advantage of education. The U.S. produces the largest number of Nobel laureates in the world and has institutions like Harvard and Yale. Yet the school dropout rate is really high.

“If you look at President Bush’s State of the Union address [last year], he said he wanted to give children a strong foundation in math and science,” Ganesh noted. “But there is very little personalized, one-on-one education in the U.S. because it is too expensive.”

Cost Effectiveness

According to a survey released in November by the Alfred P. Sloan Consortium, a group of educational institutions and organizations, approximately 3.2 million students were using online courses during the fall 2006 semester--an increase of .9 million from 2005. Eduventures, an education and research consulting firm, estimates Americans pay close to $2.2 billion annually for private tutoring.

TutorVista is much less expensive than private tutors, Ganesh noted.

“Most tutoring programs in America cost $40 to $60 an hour, which can be $400 to $600 a month for a tutor,” Ganesh said. “We offer our services for $100 per month, and it is unlimited. That is highly affordable. In America, that equates to about 20 sessions a month at $5 per hour.”

But school administrators and other education establishment organizations have expressed concerns about the quality of tutoring available online.

Lynn Griese, interim president for the National Tutoring Association, a Florida-based nonprofit organization of professional educators and tutors, said the national average for an hour of personal tutoring is only $25 and less expensive services could be inferior.

“You get what you pay for,” Griese said. “I’m not really sure students are getting much out of online tutoring, and therefore parents may not get their value for the dollar. I’m from the old school. Face-to-face tutoring is the best mode of assisting students, in my opinion.”

Trustworthy Tutors

One concern about outsourcing tutoring services, critics say, is the instructors’ qualifications. Griese noted the New York City education department suspended its relationship with Socratic Learning Incorporated because many of the firm’s tutors are in India and have not passed required background checks. The city had paid the company $2.4 million for tutoring services to help meet NCLB requirements.

But Ganesh said his tutors are highly educated and equipped to assist American students.

“One of the advantages of using Indian tutors is that the country has a population of one billion people,” said Ganesh. “When you have that many people, a good number of them will be highly qualified and interested in education just out of sheer numbers. You can’t find that in Europe or even the U.S. We use that population to cherry-pick the best people in their area of expertise.”

Griese said a cultural divide may mean outsourced tutors have difficulty assisting American students for long periods.

“I’ve hired some international students as tutors, and they had a problem teaching in our learning style as well as a problem with the language barrier,” Griese said. “I think a lack of knowledge of our culture and how our children learn and think would make online tutoring tough. And if they are working with a second-grader, that child does not have the means to try and communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language.”

Aricka Flowers (atflowers@hotmail.com) is a freelance writer in Chicago.

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.