A British company has devised a scheme of one-to-one maths tuition in which teachers in India are connected to pupils in the UK using online technology similar to an interactive whiteboard. For parents the innovation presents an affordable form of private tuition, for children it’s an exciting alternative to classroom learning, and for the tutors in India it’s an excellent employment opportunity – they are said to be paid three times the average local wage for a skilled worker.

The success of computer-based teaching has been demonstrated elsewhere. As part of a project that mirrors the outsourcing of tuition for British children to India, Professor Sugata Mitra organised 200 British volunteer grandmothers who provided encouragement and story reading to children in India. Mitra points out: “There are places on Earth, in every country, where…good schools cannot be built and good teachers cannot or do not want to go.” For these places in particular, online tuition could become a major alternative to classroom teaching.

Despite the evident satisfaction of both the parents and the children who have participated in the tutoring scheme of Bright Spark Education, and despite its potential to help children in “deprived” areas where “good teachers do not want to go”, teaching unions have come out against the idea. Most prominent in the unions’ reaction is the fear that this form of online maths tuition might begin to replace classroom teachers. The early successes of the scheme suggest that their fears are justified factually – but certainly not morally. Though they cloak their opposition in appeals to “standards”, it is a flagrant instance of monopolistic rent-seeking, invoking the power of government to deprive children of a means of education that is both effective and enjoyable.

Although the idea has been pitched merely as a supplement to classroom teaching, the computer-based method could become a serious competitor to traditional state school teaching. Given its affordability, novelty and enthusiastic reception by British school pupils, we might consider it, optimistically, as a first step on the path towards free-market reform of the education system.

4 thoughts on “Outsourcing tuition to India will benefit pupils and could promote free-market reform of the education system”

  1. Posted 08/10/2010 at 13:33 | Permalink

    I can’t help the impression that teacher’s unions are among the most reactionary forces in every Western country. How come they are always treated as an ‘authoritative voice’ by the media? If a big hotel chain tried to prevent independent backpackers’ hostels from being opened, nobody would believe in their ‘arguments’. Why do people believe the teachers’ unions?

  2. Posted 08/10/2010 at 13:48 | Permalink

    Why not go the whole hog and allow parents to outsource entire schools to India as part of the free-schools programme or, better still, a completely private system? Improved educational outcomes could be achieved at a fraction of the current cost, even including the trip over there.

  3. Posted 10/10/2010 at 09:03 | Permalink

    Monopolistic rent-seeking indeed.

    Richard, you are using the word “allow”! The right term should surely be “stop preventing”.

    Once you have a proper voucher system – not the fake one the Tories have cooked up that still involves centralised capital investment – then as long as an entity can show they are delivering education (and, IMHO, just numeracy and literacy/critical reasoning, otherwise the interference becomes more ideological) objections would then revolve around the rent seeking mentioned.

  4. Posted 11/10/2010 at 11:11 | Permalink

    @Tim – While the proper voucher system you mention would have huge advantages over current arrangements, the associated ‘licensing’ process would still give the government the opportunity to influence the curriculum, teaching methods and so on. Accordingly, a private system based entirely on fees is preferable, with voluntary organisations providing schooling for the less well off.

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