Tutoring is a multi-million dollar industry in the United States. Families can expect to pay anywhere from $40 to more than $100 per hour to get their children private tutors. The Bush administration's federal education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), requires states to pay for services like tutoring for students at schools that fail to meet educational goals. Federal funding is available for online tutoring companies - wherever they are located. VOA's Sean Maroney looks at one such company in India and explores the possibility of outsourced tutoring.
Divya Ravi is in her second year at Green Hope High School in the eastern U.S. state of North Carolina. She says she is a motivated student and wants to go to a top university when she graduates.
Each night, Monday through Friday, Divya goes to her tutor for an hour of help in math. Her family pays about $100 a month for as many one-on-one sessions as Divya wants. That's much less than the $1,500 plane ticket to visit her tutor, who lives and works in India.
"At first I wasn't really comfortable with this simply because I'm not used to not looking at a person and contacting them with a whiteboard [shared writing surface] on this computer screen and things," said Divya Ravi. "But over a while, you just really start getting used to it."
Divya, an Indian-American, logs onto the Internet from her father's laptop computer and visits the website, TutorVista.com.
The site is no ordinary Internet chatroom. It's a simulated classroom in which pupils and tutors can talk by microphone and share a writing surface on the computer screen. Krishnan Ganesh founded the site in India. He says the Internet provides more advantages than just bridging distances.
"Because it is done on the computer, I can pull up nice animations, diagrams and pictures to make the session more interesting and effective," said Krishnan Ganesh.
So far, 1,400 U.S. students subscribe to TutorVista. One hundred others subscribe in Britain. Ganesh says many of his tutors, who are based in India, have advanced degrees in their subjects. He adds that they undergo as many as 60 hours of training to receive certification, to speak with less of an accent and to learn American slang.
The $100 a month fee is also significantly lower than much of the competition. A U.S.-based company, Tutor.com, has about one thousand tutors in the United States and Canada. It mainly focuses its service to public libraries at no cost to users. However, it charges between $25 and $35 an hour for private sessions.
"Now that's expensive for any family," he said.
Economics aside, Ganesh says his company's program, which offers tutoring in math, sciences and a number of other areas, is an effective teaching tool. And he hopes to qualify for U.S. federal dollars under the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" program by offering his services to state schools.
The U.S. program provides funds for supplemental educational services, or S.E.S., to help states meet minimum educational goals. Ganesh's website could qualify, if state boards determine that TutorVista is an effective provider of remedial tutoring of their students.
The Center on Education Policy's Diane Stark Rentner studies education legislation, including No Child Left Behind. She says that, if Ganesh approaches the state boards, they will focus on the effectiveness of his program, not its cost.
"For them, the cost is not an issue," siad Stark Rentner. "In that, it's not a voucher, it's not their money, it's not money that they're given by the school district. And so it's not like the school districts would say, oh yeah, go with the low cost one, we can serve more kids. If the providers can provide in that area, they [the school districts] are supposed to provide parents with all those options and opportunities to select from the different providers and not sort of narrow their choices one way or another."
But American Federation of Teachers Director, Nancy Van Meter, says states just do not know and can not prove if services like TutorVista and Tutor.com are effective.
"Very, very few states have instituted an evaluation procedure to see whether the approved providers are actually improving student achievement," said Nancy Van Meter. "This is a real area of concern for us because millions and millions of dollars are being used to provide S.E.S. services to students."
Van Meter says it is these millions of dollars that are attracting foreign companies.
"The bottom line for these companies is that they want to make a profit," she said. "One of the reasons they're using off-shore tutors is they can pay folks in other countries significantly less than they pay tutors in the United States."
Ganesh admits he pays his tutors less than what they would make in the United States. However, he insists that is because of India's lower cost of living. Ganesh says he did not start his company to pursue U.S. federal dollars, but he says it is the growth of the Internet that encourages online companies to pursue it.
"Internet acceptability is increasing day by day," he said. "People do everything, lots of things on the Internet, and it's only going to go on increasing. Internet familiarity is increasing. The broadband is increasing. So all efforts are in the positive and the right trend."
Ganesh says TutorVista's main focus is the worldwide audience, and he plans to offer native English, Spanish and Chinese speakers to teach their respective languages within the coming years.