Indian tutoring saves money, but an opportunity is being lost

Math and science aren't the only things Indian tutors could teach American youth. An opportunity for cross-cultural learning is being squandered.

In days of yore, a tutor was someone who was paid a hefty sum to actually sit down with a student and teach face to face. In an commentary in CNET News, Soumya Srinagesh writes that these days, a tutor is more likely to cost less than a tank of gas and speak with an Indian accent.

"But this person will not fit the stereotype of Apu from "The Simpsons": The new Indian is tech-savvy, contemporary and, most important, educated.

Srinagesh writes about TutorVista.com, a typical service based in India with 24/7 online tutoring services for students in all grades through high school. Tutoring services cost $20 per hour or $100 per month for unlimited hours—a fraction of the cost of hiring a private tutor to come to your house.

Global tutoring sites like TutorVista utilize a variety of interactive software such VoIP telephony, instant messaging and a toll-free fax number which allow the review of printed materials. They also use an electronic blackboard which facilitates almost seamless communication.

While the primary goal of overseas tutoring is to provide a cost-efficient, reliable service, a really cool side effect is--potentially, at least--the ability of both tutors and tutees to gain exposure to other cultures. But there are aspects of international tutoring that can make it feel like an unbalanced cultural exchange.

Srinagesh feels that tutor services from India could provide more than online educational help, but students often miss an opportunity for cultural exchange.

"One tutee said her only problem with the long-distance tutoring program was her difficulty with her tutor's accent. As a result of comments like these, tutors are taught American slang and trained to speak with American accents. While this may make communication somewhat easier for the students, it suggests that a Westernized approach to teaching is the only appropriate one. But taking the "Indian" out of "Indian tutor" and Westernizing the tutoring service dilutes what might have been a richer cultural exchange.

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