Internet enables tutoring connections between Asian, US

Washington  - Max Benning of Scottsdale, Arizona, struggles in school, especially with the subjects chemistry, English and physics.

"According to my mom, I don't really care about school," said the 11-year-old. And he admits that he wouldn't make it without tutoring. "I need it, and it is much more efficient than studying by myself."

So, a few times a week, he discusses his homework with his tutor, Bindu. What's special about their relationship is they communicate over the internet, and Bindu lives in India. Benning is one of more than 700,000 US students who are tutored this way, and the number of students throughout the world who turn to the internet for tutoring services is growing.

The traditional tutoring institutions such as Sylvan Learning in the US, which has more than 1,000 tutoring branches across the country, are feeling pressure from the new competition. New companies such as TutorVista and Growing Stars, which hire primarily tutors in India, attract customers by offering low prices.

Parents don't have to pay up to 70 dollars per hour for group tutoring as is the case with traditional tutoring services, said John Stuppy, president of TutorVista. His company advertises a flat rate of 100 dollars a month for which students receive unlimited intensive individual tutoring over the internet.

Students must have a computer with a broadband internet connection and a headset with a microphone. For tutoring in science TutorVista recommends and electronic tablet which the student and the tutor use to write on with a digital pen. The tablet is connected to the computer so that whatever is written on it appears on the computer monitor.

TutorVista has grown "remarkably" since it was founded in 2005, said Stuppy.

"We grew over 100 times in the last 18 months," he added. It has more than 10,000 subscribers, mostly in the United States, however, schoolchildren in Britain, Canada, Turkey, Finland, Egypt and Germany also have signed up to be tutored by people located in Asia. Most of the tutors are from India, but there also are many from Korea, China, Thailand and Malaysia.

"We can find great tutors around the world and we want to connect them to students around the world," Stuppy said, noting that 85 per cent of the teachers have graduated from high school and some even have a doctoral degree. They are recruited from Indian schools, or they are retired or home with their own small children. TutorVista pays them double the amount offered by their local schools in India, Stuppy said. On average the pay is 400 dollars per month.

Sylvan Learning also offers online courses, however, all of its 1,200 tutors are from the US, said Charlotte Dowd, senior director for Sylvan Online. A one-hour tutoring session costs 50 dollars.

"The lifestyle in American families changes. We adjust to their demands," she said, referring to the company's expansion into online tutoring.

Kenneth Hartman of Drexel University in Philadelphia concurred, saying online tutoring is a rapidly growing segment in US education largely because of changing lifestyles and the demands on schoolchildren who already spend a lot of time driving from one activity to another.

"Life for kids is more difficult than it used to be. They get pulled in many different directions because of sports, because of colleges," Hartman said. Receiving tutoring at their computer is practical and can be fitted into their busy lives.

Internet: www. tutorvista. com (dpa)