What if Lady Gaga helped your child to prepare for that next English test?

Imagine hiring Justin Bieber for an hour of homework help.

How much would they charge for one lesson?

But in Hong Kong, it’s not that the stars are teaching. Here, the teachers themselves are the stars. They earn up to $1.5 million a year, drive luxury cars and their white-toothed smiles and glossy hairdos are gleaming from billboards all over the city, larger than life.

Needless to say, their lessons aren’t exactly cheap. But in Asia, grades and exams are everything. For parents, no price is high enough. Half of Hong Kong’s students get professional tutoring outside of schools. (source)

The “star teachers” and their businesses are catering to this need. There’s intense competition. So they are marketing themselves similar to the music or movies industry with the only difference maybe that while the latter are going down, the “star tutors” are doing better than ever throwing piles of money at promotion and raking in the profits.

Star tutors spare no costs on publicity. Even tutors who belong to one of the four major chains here must self-promote. But successful tutors can command hundreds of students. – csmonitor

There’s a certain principle here: As education systems are tumbling down, tutoring businesses go up. Like I’ve written before they are the vultures circling the carcass of a system that has kicked the bucket. Positively speaking,  they are a good indicator of how public education is doing. If you are seeing to many of them, something is going very wrong.

The Hong Kong version of it is alarming in its aggressive marketing strategies. It raises questions such as: What is the role of public education in a booming economy? Is it just the giver of grades, dispenser of certificates? What does it do?

In the West, we often like to see our education system as a prerequisite for economic growth, that our education lays the foundation and shapes the future of our economy. Hong Kong shows a different picture. Here, public education can’t keep up with the rapid growth of the economy. Therefore, a new education system, a parallel world of tutoring is born, one that is modelled on the dynamics of the free market. And they seem to be doing well. Hong Kong tutors provide the desired results to their clients: “exam skills”. And parents keep shelling out mountains of money.

Many businesses in Europe and America are already doing the same. They aren’t necessarily promoting their teachers done up like Hollywood puppets, not yet, but they are feeding off parent’s needs to provide “good grades” and “pass exams”.

One could argue that public education has lost all means to make students reach the grades and exams set up as standards of its own making. A paradox? Not to private tutoring, for they depend on the system being broken!

But this is just one side of it. Even if grades are sufficient, parents (especially in Asia) will want their children to be the best. Which means: numbers, ratios: Measurable success!

We invariably feel that the state of education should be measured similar to the GDP. The effects of education must be demonstrated quantitatively, at all costs!

Hong Kong is at the forefront of this kind of thinking.

But America and Europe are not far from it. Tutoring has become an integral part of the educational landscape. At its core is the idea that both teachers and students are failing to meet the official standards.

But instead of questioning the standards themselves, after all they are “god” .. excuse me .. “government-given” there surely must be something wrong with the people.

And thus, the dog continues to chase its own tail.

 

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