Friday, September 29, 2006

What's the derivative, buckaroo? 

As Asian countries continue to move towards service exports, we can expect to see more stories like this about using call centers for more complex services.
Private tutors are a luxury many American families cannot afford, costing anywhere between $25 to $100 an hour. But California mother Denise Robison found one online for $2.50 an hour -- in India.

"It's made the biggest difference. My daughter is literally at the top of every single one of her classes and she has never done that before," said Robison, a single mother from Modesto.

Her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor, is one of 1,100 Americans enrolled in Bangalore-based TutorVista, which launched U.S. services last November with a staff of 150 "e-tutors," mostly in India, with a fee of $100 a month for unlimited hours.

Taylor took two-hour sessions each day for five days a week in math and English -- a cost that tallies to $2.50 an hour, a fraction of the $40 an hour charged by U.S.-based online tutors such as market leader that draw on North American teachers, or the usual $100 an hour for face-to-face sessions.

"I like to tell people I did private tutoring every day for the cost of a fast-food meal or a Starbucks coffee," Robison said. "We did our own form of summer school all summer."

I should note that this girl is 13, and says that she had a hard time at first picking up her tutor's accented English but eventually tuned her ear to it. This runs counter to the complaints we normally hear about inarticulate foreign faculty in universities. And these tutors are getting the kind of help I wish our own universities would spend more time giving to international instructors:

Many of the tutors have masters degrees in their subjects, said Ganesh. On average, they have taught for 10 years. Each undergoes 60 hours of training, including lessons on how to speak in a U.S. accent and how to decipher American slang.

Why wouldn't we do that?