India was once part of the British Empire, but thanks to modern technology and a booming economy, it has turned the tables on its former colonial master. Indian tutors are helping to teach math to British children over high-speed Internet connections. Early results suggest the idea is improving exam results. But not everyone is happy at this 'outsourcing' of tutoring.
It’s 3:30, and pupils at Raynham Primary School in London are gathering for their after-school math lesson.
Five time zones - and thousands of kilometers away - their math tutors are also arriving for class. High-speed Internet has made it possible for Indian tutors to teach British pupils in real time. Each pupil gets a dedicated one-to-one online tutor.
The class' teacher, Altus Basson, says he has seen an improvement in results. "There are some children who’ve really rocketed in their results. Children who struggle to focus in class focus a lot better on the laptops. The real advantage is that each child gets a focused activity and a single tutor," he said.
Raynham’s pupils like nine-year old Samia Abdul-Kadir say they enjoy the online lessons. "It helps me because sometimes when we’re doing it in class, I don’t hear the teacher very much and I don’t understand, but online is better," she said.
Her friend, Abdul-Fadil Badori agrees. "Online, you can hear it, it’s not shared by everyone, everyone has different topics they’re learning," he said.
Such individualized teaching is the core idea of Brightspark Education, the company that provides the online tutoring, says founder Tom Hooper.
"Children today feel very confident online, they feel very engaged, they feel very in control. And that’s half the battle with education. Give them control, make them feel confident and enjoy their learning and you’ll see them start to improve and embrace it," he said.
Raynham Primary School is among the first in Europe to try online tutoring. At between $20 and $25 an hour, it’s about half the cost of face-to-face coaching.
But it has not been welcomed by all. Kevin Courtney is deputy General Secretary of Britain's National Union of Teachers.
"We think there’s a really important emotional connection between a teacher and a child whether it’s a whole class or whether it’s one-to-one. You need that immediacy of feedback and we’re not convinced that that can happen across an Internet connection. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we think that we can afford to have teachers with genuine emotional connection there with the children," he said.
Brightspark Education insists the online tutoring is purely a supplement to regular teaching - and denies that it poses a threat to teachers’ jobs in Britain.
Parents say they’re very satisfied with the results they’ve seen. Despite new technologies and methods of teaching, math is still not everyone's favorite subject.