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.