Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Coaching from Kochi

With many US students taking online lessons from teachers in India, especially Kerala, tuition outsourcing is offering lucrative opportunities to these professionals, writes A. Saj Mathews

When the rest of the city sleeps, many postgraduate teachers in Kochi sit wide awake before their PCs, giving interactive online tuitions to children seated before similar computer modules, continents apart in the USA.

Yes, outsourcing is entering new areas with US school kids increasingly taking tuitions from teachers in Kerala, throwing open lucrative work options for these professionals.

Growing Stars, operating in the emerging metropolis of Kochi, is a beehive of activity. It has a total of 40 experienced teachers giving interactive online tuitions to as many as 400 children in the USA. The subjects taught are mainly mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.

There are a few who opt for English tuitions too. As for the fee, it’s $ 20 for a one-hour session as against $ 40 to $ 50 in the USA. Obviously, outsourcing of home tuitions is much cheaper an option for US parents. Most of the children enroll for the whole academic year with at least 10 classes a month.

“We have a strong list of satisfied clients; many of them are with us for the last two years,” says Beena George, Senior Manager HRD and Administration of Growing Stars Infotech, Kochi. The outfit is the Indian subsidiary of Growing Stars Inc, California, USA, founded by two NRIs hailing from Kerala, Biju Abraham and Saji Philip.

The three-year-old Growing Stars started actual operations only after perfecting their in-house software for inter-continental tuitions in January, 2004.

The online tutorial interaction uses both voice and data. Exercises are done on electronic notebooks which are available at both ends.

Classes are exclusively for school-going kids from Grade III to XII. A few students who study at home with regular teachers are also in the list “but they belong to the ultra-rich category”, says Beena. Also, their students include a few adults who are dropouts for some reason or other.

The marketing wing of the Growing Stars in the USA canvasses for students and the enrolling takes place throughout the year. The students are a mix of both the natives of the USA and NRIs.

How do the children react to coaching from an alien land? How different is teaching foreign kids? Any accent problems?

Leelabhai Nair, a senior teacher at Kochi, says “It is quite thrilling and challenging. The children are the same everywhere. We establish excellent rapport with the student within a matter of days”

In fact, it is your approach that matters a lot, she says. She recalls that when the tsunami hit India, the US children were quite concerned about their tuition teachers. The teachers reciprocated the concern when Katrina hit the USA.

The students comprise both boys and girls. The US textbooks are made available to the teachers who prepare themselves in advance for each student. There are online interactive tests and homework. Normally, a single teacher is assigned to each student for the whole academic year.

There is a senior person as academic director for every 100 students. The academic director evaluates the performance of both the teachers and the students, says Beena, adding that this helps to maintain a high standard.

Every teacher is given accent training by experienced trainers so that the interaction is smooth. All teachers are full-time regular employees of Growing Stars. Pick up and drop facility is offered by the company as the teachers have to work at odd hours due to the time difference between the USA and India.

So, what are the future prospects? Beena says this field is growing fast. In fact, the company has already started enrolling students from Australia and UK as part of its plans to enter these markets in a big way.

Any plans to start this programme for students in India. “No,” says Beena, “it is not a viable proposition as most of the Indian parents can not afford it.”

It appears that the world is shrinking into a single classroom. Ventures like Growing Stars are reported to be in operation in cities like Delhi, and are likely to expand operations in different parts of the country.

Inter-continental outsourcing of home tuitions has all the potential of a lucrative business proposition that will also provide better job opportunities to many teachers.

— The writer is a Kochi-based financial journalist