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Outsourcing the Teaching: Classrooms in Britain, Tutors in India

October 25, 2010


From NYTIMES.COM (Julia Werdigier): “Once a week, year six pupils at Ashmount Primary School in North London settle in front of their computers, put on their headsets and get ready for their math class. A few minutes later, their teachers come online thousands of kilometers away in the Indian state of Punjab.


Ashmount is one of three state schools in Britain that decided to outsource part of their teaching to India via the Internet. The service — the first of its kind in Europe — is offered by BrightSpark Education, a London-based company set up last year. BrightSpark employs and trains 100 teachers in India and puts them in touch with pupils in Britain through an interactive online tutoring program.


The feedback from pupils, the schools and parents is good so far, and BrightSpark said a dozen more schools, a charity and many more parents were interested in signing up for the lessons. The one-on-one sessions not only cost about half of what personal tutors in Britain charge but are also popular with pupils, who enjoy solving equations online, said Rebecca Stacey, an assistant head teacher at Ashmount.

But the service also faces some opposition from teacher representatives who are fearful that it could threaten their jobs at a time when the government is pushing through far-reaching spending cuts. The 3 percent that is to be cut from the budget for educational resources by 2014 might be small compared with cuts in other areas, like welfare and pensions, but money at schools will remain tight.

Online learning is still controversial in Britain. Some teachers said tutors based elsewhere lacked the cultural empathy and understanding of a pupil’s social environment that could influence study habits and performance. There is also concern about the qualifications of teachers abroad…”


(Ya think? In this case, BrightSparks teachers have good qualifications on record and the interaction includes interactive whiteboard communications during the online lessons.)

I have my feelings about appropriate use of online learning. This case may fit my criteria but when you’re talking about remotely hiring a workforce that’s paid about $11/hour, it’s tough to feel OK about not seeing a problem with it, frankly. Why? Partly because of how hard it will become for cash strapped schools and systems to *not* turn over more and more of the teaching responsibilities to companies like BrightSparks, as they get more comfortable with this model. And that may mean that local teachers will see wages and benefits cut in order to stay on par with the value of their foreign counterparts. If we become comfortable thinking about educating as a commodity that we can buy from outside sources, the nature of education changes and the link between teachers and students changes, too.

On the other hand, imported education can save remote and under served areas. (If it also brings affordable options to the masses with options, then can I reasonably make a stink? Still, I see a difference. And a danger in one instance, when it’s a boon in another.)

See what you think. Read the rest of the article at

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