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Outsourcing homework to India

Need help with that term paper, young American? Meet Saswati Patnaik.

A vendor arranges books by the roadside in the old quarters of Delhi, Aug. 20, 2006. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

BANGALORE, India — Six days a week in the wee hours of the morning, Saswati Patnaik logs into her home computer.

The homemaker — and tutor for a Bangalore company called TutorVista — rises early to help American high school students write English term papers, prepare S.A.T. essays or finish homework assignments.

Outsourcing, of course, started as a way for American companies to lower costs by shifting work to cheaper locations. After nearly two decades, that practice has become so mainstream that hundreds of U.S. businesses — from Wall Street banks to law firms, architects and others — routinely outsource to India.

But now a growing number of individual Americans are following in the footsteps of businesses — and outsourcing homework.

For $99 a month, American customers of TutorVista get unlimited coaching in English, math or science from Patnaik or one of her 1,500 fellow tutors. Similar personalized services in the United States charge about $40 an hour.

“The economic downturn has pushed education to the top of the average American family’s monthly household budget,” said Krishnan Ganesh, CEO and founder of TutorVista. “More Americans feel that education is their only safety anchor, the only thing that can help them stay competitive in this world.”

The company's customers are overwhelmingly from the U.S., but Canadians, Koreans, British and Australians also sign up for lessons.

To meet this growing demand, TutorVista is adding another 1,500 teachers across India in the next few weeks.

To be sure, homework outsourcing is no longer a novelty. Several Indian companies offer the service, operating like call centers with tutors sitting in a common office. But companies like TutorVista are now extending the trend directly from the homes of Indian tutors to those of American students.

Technology has already made communication seamless from anywhere-India to anywhere-United States, said CEO Ganesh. There is no stopping the trend now.

On this particular morning, Patnaik is working with students from Atlanta and New Jersey. She logs into the TutorVista portal, using webchat to greet her student. “Hello, Brittney," she says. Her student responds back immediately. They switch to audio, and Patnaik asks, “How have you been?” A polite sentence or two later, she queries, “How may I help you today?”

The ninth grader has a quiz on Stephen Crane’s "The Red Badge of Courage" the next day. The two discuss the novel and its characters. Patnaik probes Brittney on a few chapters and asks her several questions. She writes the themes in the novel on the digital pad and they discuss as the words show up on their respective computer whiteboards.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/india/091106/outsourcing-homework-india