'Tutors are like actors'

Trends

'Tutors are like actors'


Royal Lifestyle: Tutors live life, literally, King-size. AP photoThey are multimillionaires, thriving even in recession in Hong Kong, and they have thousands of teenage fans. Their faces are splashed on billboards and the sides of buses and taxis and in subway stations. They are not models or movie stars. In fact, their fame is based on something much less glamourous: test-taking strategies.

Cram sessions

In Asia, after-school cram sessions have become a big business, capitalising on students’ desire to perform well on entrance examinations so that they can attend the best universities.

Hong Kong is no exception. Government statistics from 2006, the latest year available, showed 34 percent of the primary and secondary students in the city, or about 300,000, went to cram schools. With students typically paying around 1,000 Hong Kong dollars, or $128, per person per month in fees, the tutoring industry is generating at least 3.6 billion dollars a year, and that is probably a low estimate. A 2005 survey by the University of Hong Kong found that 70 percent of high school students and about 50 percent of primary school students had hired tutors.

To meet the demand in this city, which has more than 800,000 primary and secondary students, four dominating cram school chains have sprouted up, along with 800 smaller ones and many more private tutors. With more and more competitors entering the industry, which has a low entrance barrier, after-school teachers needed to find ways to attract students, and the so-called tutor kings and queens were born.

“Schools are like modelling agencies and tutors like stage actors,” said Richard Eng, an English tutor king who is co-founder of Beacon College, a cram school that is registered with the Hong Kong Education Department. “It’s human nature that we like to look at something beautiful.”

For Mr Eng that means wearing designer clothes and putting on foundation and lipstick for the camera; all classes are broadcast live via closed-circuit television.

“A makeover is definitely necessary,” he said. “Grooming and makeup show respect for students and increase their interest to attend your classes. For example, they would guess what colour you are wearing today.”

Recession-proof

The recession has not dented the tutoring industry, Mr Eng said. “Although more families are tightening their budget, they are still very willing to spend on their children’s education,” he said, adding that as the spring period of public examinations drew near, the school had seen a 10 percent increase in enrollment in intensive courses.

Mr Eng declined to disclose his monthly salary, but Chinese media have reported that the top 20 tutors in the city have each made more than 10 million dollars a month. Mr Eng, who owns a row of houses in a high-end residential area, has a yellow Lamborghini and a silver Mercedes-Benz.

Alan Wong, 17, one of Mr Eng’s students, said he liked that his teacher was stylish. “He looks like a pop star and a spokesperson of Louis Vuitton,” Alan said. “That makes him different from regular day school teachers, who look more boring and worn-out.”

Peer pressure

As with all things trendy, peer pressure is a factor in students’ participation in the after-school sessions. “Everyone is going,” said Stephanie Wong, 18. “If you don’t go, you feel like you are the only one to miss out something important.”

Hong Kong school administrators do not endorse cram schools, but they also said there was value in using them.

“Many day school teachers regard tutors as a supplement,” said Wong Wai-kwok, assistant professor of educational administration at the Hong Kong Institute of
Education.

However, the prospects of cram schools may be in doubt, Mr Wong said, after a change in the education system, which is to go into effect in September and is expected to place less emphasis on entrance exams.

Yet Mr Eng of Beacon College said he remained optimistic. His institute recently opened a branch in Tokyo, marketing itself as a school originating from a former British colony that could bring “authentic English” to Japan. He also has expansion plans for China.

“So long as there is one public exam, our future’s bright,” he said.

From our readers
Regarding the article “Tuitions: A necessary evil?” that appeared on June 4 in DH Education, tuitions have become an integral part of our lives. Mere learning at school and college does not suffice for today’s aspirants. They need the extra edge that tuition classes offer.

Though the competitive world has made tuitions almost a must-avail for candidates, this also means that what is taught during the regular course in educational institutions is not enough. It reflects badly on their efforts and hence colleges need to improve their standards.

A student gaining a merit seat in any professional college would ascribe his success to his tutorials more than the college he attended.

The teaching at tution classes is precise and objective-oriented. Pupils learn techniques to help in learning their lessons easier and quicker. Many such classes have become junior colleges preparing students for success in plus two entrance exams.

Krishna K S, Surathkal

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