Flat Education Published 2006-05-16

There are numerous examples of "outsourcing" In Tom Friedman's World is Flat, so it should not be surprising that the education industry is taking advantage of a less expensive work force overseas.

Thousands of U.S. students ... are increasingly relying on overseas tutors to boost their grades and SAT scores. The tutors, who communicate with students over the Internet, are inexpensive and available around the clock, making education the newest industry to be outsourced to other countries... The U.S. demand for overseas tutors is creating a thriving industry in Asia. About 80 percent of India's $5 million online tutoring industry is focused on students in the United States, according to Educomp Solutions, a New Delhi tutoring company. (Amit R. Paley - Washington Post - May 15, 2006)

It also should not be surprising that teacher unions are against this practice suggesting that companies providing tutoring services will turn to under qualified tutors from foreign countries to minimize their cost and increase their profits. What is keeping these same companies from providing U.S. based under qualified tutors? The market. These companies are in the business of helping students. If a student is not benefiting from the tutoring, she will look elsewhere for the help.

I applaud the idea that students can get more individual instruction in an educational system that routinely subjects teachers to class sizes of 30+. That translates to less than 10 minutes of individual help for each student per week. Furthermore, individual tutoring gives the student the opportunity to access help outside of class - hopefully after reflecting on the material presented.

A friend and colleague who teaches Calculus goes the extra mile by allowing students to send him questions (via instant messager) outside of class. It is not uncommon for students to send questions late at night, prime time for them, down time for the rest of us. It makes perfect sense for these night owls to use tutors on the other side of the world.

It is sad that outsourcing is often associated with the employment of under qualified personnel. Just because someone lives in another part of the world does not mean they are less qualified. Teachers should embrace outsourcing, whether it be in the form of tutoring that student who is falling behind the rest of the class or grading those 300 homework papers. Teachers are superheros, but with limited powers. In this flat world, lets take advantage of the help available.