Thursday, September 22, 2005

Miles away but as close as a keyboard

Saritha Rai

There’s a new wave of outsourcing to India: The tutoring of American students. Five days each week, at 4:30 am in Cochin, the teachers log on to their computers just as students in the United States settle down to their books and homework in the late afternoon.

A few minutes before seven on a recent morning, Greeshma Salin swivelled her chair to face the computer, slipped on her headset and said in faintly accented English, "Hello, Daniela." Seconds later she heard the response, "Hello, Greeshma."

The two chatted excitedly before Salin said, "We'll work on pronouns today." Then she typed in, "Daniela thinks that Daniela should give Daniela's horse Scarlett to Daniela's sister."

"Is this an awkward sentence?" she asked. "How can you make it better?"

Distance doesn’t matter

Nothing unusual about this exchange except that Salin, 22, was in Cochin, a city in coastal southern India, and her student, Daniela Marinaro, 13, was at her home in Malibu, Calif.

Salin is part of a new wave of outsourcing to India: the tutoring of American students. Twice a week for a month now, Salin, who grew up speaking the Indian language Malayalam at home, has been tutoring Daniela in English grammar, comprehension and writing.

Using a simulated whiteboard on their computers, connected by the Internet, and a copy of Daniela's textbook in front of her, she guides the teenager through the intricacies of nouns, adjectives and verbs.

Daniela, an eighth grader at Malibu Middle School, said, "I get C's in English and I want to score A's," and added that she had given no thought to her tutor being 20,000 miles away, other than the situation feeling "a bit strange in the beginning." She and her sister, Serena, 10, a fourth grader at Malibu Elementary, are just two of the 350 Americans enrolled in Growing Stars, an online tutoring service that is based in Fremont, Calif., but whose 38 teachers are all in Cochin. They offer tutoring in mathematics and science, and recently in English, to students in grades 3 to 12.

Five days each week, at 4:30 a m in Cochin, the teachers log on to their computers just as students in the United States settle down to their books and homework in the late afternoon.

Growing Stars tutors

Growing Stars is one of at least a half-dozen companies across India that are helping American children complete their homework and prepare for tests.

Growing Stars recruits, include postgraduate and teaching degrees, with deep knowledge of the subject. They must go through two weeks of technical, accent and cultural training that includes familiarisation with the differences between British English, widely used in India, and American English.

What they learn

"They learn to use 'eraser' instead of its Indian equivalent, 'rubber,' and understand that 'I need a pit stop' could mean 'I need to go to the loo,"' said Saji Philip, a software entrepreneur of Indian origin. Still, the cultural divide is real.

An English teacher, Anya Tharakan, 24, directed her student away from the subject of video games to concentrate on a passage from "Alice in Wonderland," enlivening the lessons with puzzles and picture games. Tharakan, who tutors Serena Marinaro among others, said a bit of the cultural gulf was being bridged with informal conversation.

Thomas Marinaro, a chiropractor in Los Angeles and the father of Daniela and Serena, had been unhappy with the face-to-face tutoring he had previously arranged for his daughters at home. After three months with Growing Stars, however, Marinaro said the girls' math skills had improved. As a bonus, it cost a third of what he paid the home tutor.

The demand for online tutoring is reflected in the firm's 50 per cent growth rate in the last few years.

Firms like Growing Stars are aggressively looking to expand their online tutoring under federal programs. The program, financed by the U S Department of Education, helps children of high school age get into college.



At 9:08 PM, Blogger Jagdish nadar said...

This is good concept of Teaching for the teachers to teach from their home, This type of opertunity should be encuraged -

any such opertunity please inform me my wife can do it- as she is teaching students at home.


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