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Outsourcing homework to India

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

Among the Indian tutors working for TutorVista are fresh graduates looking for an opening in a slack job market, stay-at-home mothers, and women with young children, retired professionals and even those confined to their homes by illness or other circumstances.

Saswati Patnaik, for instance, says she made her career choice because she is homebound for health reasons.

In small Indian towns such as Kasargod in the south and Faridkot in the north where career choices are limited, these outsourcing jobs have become an important new source of income. Teachers can earn from 10,000 rupees (more than $200) to twice that sum, depending on the hours and the grades they teach.

American teenager Maureen Baker, a high school senior in New York, says she enrolled with TutorVista a year ago because her father felt it would give her better control over time and resources. Baker is in an advanced program in math and science.

At peak times, TutorVista’s teachers coach 2,500 American students in one-to-one sessions that last between 30 minutes to an hour. On an average day, the company serves about 3,500 students.

The slight communication barrier, an occasional technological problem and the quality of tutors present a challenge for the students, said Baker. But there are many advantages, she said. “I have my share of tutors who do an outstanding job and make the sessions enjoyable and productive.”

Tutors like Patnaik say some of the students are outstanding but many do not focus enough. “American kids don’t face the kind of academic pressure that Indian kids have to cope with both at school and at home,” said Patnaik, who has been tutoring for more than two years.

Older teachers face a culture shock when the kids they are tutoring call them by their first names or criticize them openly. In India, teachers are seldom faulted and always respectfully addressed “Ma’am” or “Sir."

There are other wrinkles as well. For instance, TutorVista has to steer its tutors away from India’s rote learning system to the more open, interactive American way.

Still, that hasn't mollified some critics (mainly teachers in the U.S.), who have raised concerns about the quality of instruction and the lack of uniform standards and testing.

For its part, TutorVista says bridging cultural gaps presents its own share of challenges — like, for example, conversing with American teens.

So in the next few weeks, Indian tutors will learn to use “awesome” as praise, and illustrate a math problem using donuts instead of mangoes.

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