the last three years, I had the honor and priviledge to lead
a team that averaged 60-80 full-time technical and business
resources per week in a major overhaul of one of the USA's leading
retailer's technology systems. Fully 2/3 of the team's resources
hailed from southern India. 1/3 of those southern India resources
worked at the retailer's headquarters here in the US, primarily
on H1 visas, while the remaining 2/3 worked in Bangalore.
In all my 17+ years in technology, working as a consultant and
as a consulting principal at some of the technology industry's
largest companies, and having worked in that capacity on behalf
of Fortune 1000-sized clients across the USA, Europe, South
America, and Asia Pacific, the Indian citizens I worked with
these past few years were among the most skilled professionals
I have ever had the pleasure of serving with on the same team.
Their strong customer focus, exemplary technical problem-solving,
and extraordinary team skills all made them really stand out
and were of immeasurable importance in our delivering to our
customer their $40M project on time, on budget, and per approved
requirements. In addition, the value proposition the employer
of these professionals presented, particularly when laid against
the hourly rates of their relatively less-skilled and all-too-often
petulant peers who populated the US technology industry during
the dot-com peak of 1999-2001, was truly eye-popping. To give
you an idea of the difference in hourly billing rates here in
the US for superior skills today v. the norm of a few years
2000: data architect, US citizen, $400/hour
data architect, Indian citizen, H1 Visa, $45/hour
programmer, US citizen, $250/hour
programmer, Indian citizen, Offshore, $25/hour
ever there was a reason to refuse to let a nation's future demographic
majority wallow in this country's enormous academic achievement
gap, to me, this is it. Every night and while we sleep, the
people of India, China, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe
study. And as outstanding students of what we do well here in
the USA, they're absolutely clocking us. Our nation's low-achieving
students appear on track to serve our stellar foreign performers
fries with their orders - if they're lucky, considering how
many of them we're making here. So when the offshoring value
proposition extends to areas such as in my experience and emerging
areas such as in the article below, one has to ask, has there
ever been a better time to fix what's broken in our little corner
of the world known as Altadena? How long can we afford to let
our current academic situation fester when yesterday's minority
has already become California's majority K-12 demographic?
The text from the LA Times article "Calling India"
L.A. students are hooking up with tutors in South Asia for help
with their homework. Is this global economy cool, or what?
By Scott Kraft
scene in the Broder family's Beverly Hills home is, in most
respects, a classic glimpse into the life of your typical Southern
California teenager. Noah, a high school sophomore wearing blue-and-orange
tennis shoes, is working out a quadratic equation under the
watchful eye of his math tutor, Shani, a petite young woman
in brown leather sandals who has a copy of his textbook open
in front of her.
Noah," Shani says, flashing a thumbs-up sign.
town in Inglewood, a sophomore named Mariana Ibrahin is going
over a biology assignment with her tutor, Roshan. They both
hear the occasional roar of a jet on final approach to LAX over
Mariana's house, but neither is distracted from the work at
hand. Their twice-a-week sessions have helped lift Mariana's
grade to a solid B, and Roshan adores her student. In fact,
Roshan says later, "I'd love to meet my Mariana one day."
is quite as it seems here in the global village, where Noah
and Mariana get their after-school help in a virtual classroom,
separated from their tutors by 12 1/2 time zones. Tutors Shani
Jose and Roshan Salim work beneath humming ceiling fans in a
muggy port city in India, where, fittingly, today is tomorrow.
They are connected to their pupils by a voice-over-Internet
phone and an interactive computer "whiteboard" where
teacher and pupil write using a stylus and pad and on which,
when appropriate, the tutors can add a universally understood
electronic symbol for a job well done: Thumbs-up.
spread of outsourcing, especially to India, has touched millions
of Americans in ways both frustrating and satisfying. Customer
service agents answer our complaints from Bangalore. Law firms
get their legal transcripts typed in Mumbai. Blue chip companies
farm out high-tech work to engineers in Hyderabad.
the last few years, a small group of companies, most started
by Indian entrepreneurs, has tried a new twist on the theme.
They've tapped India's pool of highly educated and, by American
standards, low-paid men and women to shore up the math, science
and even English skills of a new generation of Americans, catering
to parents desperate to get their children into the best possible
colleges. In Los Angeles, this flip side of the outsourcing
debate unfolds in microcosm each weekday afternoon, in quiet
moments between pupils and tutors.
California's after-school landscape already is dotted with tutoring
academies and SAT preparation classes. What these new businesses
offer are lower prices, greater convenience and a window on
the wider world—though sometimes with the same irritants
that have made outsourcing so exasperating for so many Americans.
tutors for both Noah and Mariana work for Growing Stars, a firm
launched three years ago by Biju Mathew, a Silicon Valley software
engineer. Mathew, a 42-year-old father of three, came up with
the idea while hunting for a math tutor for his second-grade
son. As a new arrival to the United States, he was shocked to
find American tutors charging $40 to $100 an hour—prices
that were "way beyond" his financial reach.
kept thinking: If I could just connect [students] with their
teachers back in India it would be so much cheaper," Mathew
says. "And then I realized there could be thousands of
parents like me."
working from home at night, and enlisting friends in his hometown
of Cochin, India, he set out to develop a computer program that
would replicate the experience of one-on-one tutoring. He tested
it on his children, developed a business plan, brought in an
Indian American investor and leased a tiny office in one of
the high-tech office parks on the 101 Freeway near San Jose.
Growing Stars has 400 students, most in the United States, and
its work force in India has grown to 61, including 49 tutors,
four academic directors, and a sales and technical support staff.
Growing Stars is the only U.S.-based firm whose teachers work
together in a single academy in India. A competitor, Bangalore-based
TutorVista, which has 2,000 students, has tutors who work mostly
from their homes in India.
his company's only full-time employee in the United States,
is still waiting for his big payday. A slight, soft-spoken man,
he rents his Fremont house and drives an old Toyota Camry with
a missing hubcap. But he has high hopes. "If you have a
great idea, you can make it happen in America," he says.
"The [Silicon] Valley nurtures entrepreneurship, unlike
in India. I don't want to remain small. I want to take it to
the next level."
a teacher shortage in the United States and a swelling demand
for tutors, more companies with foreign-based tutors are diving
into the market. "We're seeing a globalization of education,"
says Don Knezek, chief executive of the Washington D.C.- and
Eugene, Ore.-based International Society for Technology in Education.
"For years, tutoring was an elitist activity for the elite.
Now, the offshore operations are making it available to the
middle class. It really fills a need in the nation right now."
Stars fields an average of 75 inquiries a month from parents
in the United States, and Mathew says his biggest challenge
"is to convince people that online tutoring is really effective."
Broder's parents approached this novel tutoring arrangement
with a fair degree of skepticism.
an affable, self-assured 16-year-old, goes to the private Wildwood
School in West Los Angeles, which touts a strong academic program
in a noncompetitive environment. His father, Michael, runs a
consulting company and is an associate clinical professor of
obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA. His mother, Donna, works
in children's publishing. Although Noah's parents like Wildwood,
they are concerned that the math program is too theoretical.
And Noah feels he needs more practice problems to understand
a kinesthetic as well as a visual learner," he says.
decided Noah needed a tutor, but private tutors are expensive
and the couple, with 11-year-old Maya and 8-year-old Jake at
home, didn't have time to ferry Noah to lessons. They heard
about Growing Stars from a neighbor, who had two children in
the program. But Michael's experience with outsourcing at work
hadn't exactly been a success. His company had tried to save
money by outsourcing searches of medical literature to India,
but dropped the experiment after missed connections and poor
the Broders decided to give it a try. They paid a $50 initial
fee for the program, invested less than $100 in a headset, stylus
and pad and signed up for two sessions a week at the rate of
$160 a month. Noah took quickly to the arrangement, in which
he confers with Shani from 7:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. every Monday
and Tuesday. His first tutor was hard to understand, and he
had to adjust to the slight delay in the phone line. But there
are positives. "One of the good things is that they are
less of a 'teacher,'" he says. "There's less pressure.
You can ask a question that you think they might have already
parents have had some trouble communicating with the academic
directors who call to discuss Noah's progress. "They're
really hard to understand," Michael says. "But Noah's
of a different generation. I expect it just doesn't get under
his skin the way it does with me."
one in the family argues with the results. "It's really
amazing. Amazing that it works," Michael says. "For
sure, his grades have improved."
truth is," Noah's mother says, "if convenience wasn't
important for us, we might not have done it. But it's definitely
didn't need any lessons in cultural diversity. Her mother, Ana,
is from Brazil, where Mariana was born. Her stepfather, Keith
Laidley, a financial analyst at Northrup Grumman, is a Los Angeles
spoke only Portuguese when she moved to the United States five
years ago to join her mother. Now a tall 16-year-old with dark,
cascading curls, she speaks English and is enrolled at Alexander
Hamilton High School, a magnet school where her specialty is
modern dance. Mariana's family, which includes her Brazilian
grandmother and her two siblings, 4-year-old Giancarlo and 7-year-old
Isabella, live in a modest bungalow in Inglewood.
she entered high school a year ago, Mariana was struggling with
her grades. Keith enrolled her in a computer-based tutoring
center, but, he says, they eventually decided "we needed
something more aggressive." He looked into professional
tutors, but they charged $120 an hour. Even a student tutor
at UCLA, at $60 an hour, was too expensive. That's when a friend
of the family suggested Growing Stars, where lessons are just
$20 an hour.
were nervous at first," Keith admits, "but we had
the luxury of saying, 'Let's see if this pays off.'" In
November, Keith signed up Mariana for four hourlong lessons
a week—Monday and Thursday in math and Tuesday and Wednesday
adjusted easily to the virtual classroom, connected to India
through the laptop in her room. "She's already into the
computer," her step-father says. "Even when she's
not studying, she's into that space." When she mentions
that her biology grade has risen to a B, the news takes her
stepfather by surprise. "We didn't know that!" he
says, smiling broadly.
only hitches have been technological and logistical. Sometimes
the computer link goes down, though it usually is quickly restored.
And classes have had to be rescheduled twice because of transportation
strikes in India. Also, Keith found it difficult at first "to
get clear exactly what day it is there and here," he says.
"There are some things lost in translation. But when we
have trouble, we communicate with them by e-mail."
day begins early—very early—for Growing Stars tutors
in the city of Cochin, which rests on fingers of land reaching
into the Arabian Sea. Cochin is the largest city in the state
of Kerala, where 32 million people live in an area smaller than
West Virginia. And this stretch of the Malabar Coast, 1,600
miles south of Delhi, is the world's center of ayurvedic medicine,
a holistic treatment of massage and oils that is said to rejuvenate
body and mind.
collect the early-shift tutors from their homes shortly after
midnight and deliver them to a two-story office building, where
work begins at 1:30 a.m.—just after school lets out on
America's East Coast. Noah's and Mariana's tutors, like others
catering to West Coast students, are on the "late shift,"
which starts at 4:30 a.m. Soon after the late shift arrives,
the sun begins to rise on a lush Indian neighborhood of houses
and apartments, palm and banana trees. The temperature is already
88 degrees, and rising.
the tutors sit in high-backed desk chairs in plywood cubicles
that stretch across a gleaming white tile floor. Math tutors
are on one side, science on the other. A few English tutors
and administrators sit in between. Bookshelves against the unadorned
walls are filled with American textbooks. It's library quiet,
save for the air conditioners and fans mounted on the ceiling
and walls. Tutors spend about half their day preparing lessons
and the rest speaking into headsets to students half a world
of the tutors are young, in their 20s, with résumés
that include teaching stints as well as master's degrees or
other postgraduate work in India. As everywhere in India, the
women are dressed in saris of dazzling color, while most of
the men wear jeans. The early hours are tough, but the salary
helps make up for it. Tutors here earn from $250 to $400 a month,
compared to less than $200 a month for public school teachers.
center is run by Bina George, a former banker, whose most difficult
task is finding tutors. "You can find good English speakers,
and there are plenty of people with master's degrees,"
she explains. "But it's hard to find people with master's
degrees in science or math who also speak good English."
primary language in Kerala is Malayalam, and although English
is taught at school, very few people speak it at home. Even
fewer have contact with native English speakers. When Shani
Jose came to work here two years ago, she says "I had never
even spoken to an American before." Overhearing her remark,
George adds: "Actually, none of us had."
English is the biggest complaint from parents, so new tutors
attend a daily "accent reduction" class taught by
24-year-old Greeshma Salim, one of a handful of English tutors
at Growing Stars. She received her own offshore tutoring in
accent reduction—on the telephone from a language specialist
in California. She admits that having a nonnative English speaker
tutoring American students in English "might seem ironic."
But, she says, "when you learn English as your mother tongue,
a lot of colloquialisms come in. I can treat it like any other
Indian tutors often are amused and sometimes baffled by the
expressions of some students. Greeshma was tripped up by "leaping
I know it just means something you say when you're surprised,"
she says. When another tutor's student made an error on a problem
and declared, "I'm thick," the tutor shared it with
new tutors are warned about the informality of the Americans.
"It was a shock, initially, to hear them call me by my
first name," says Leelabai Nair, one of the academic directors.
"But now we're used to it."
tempting to see this virtual bridge that links the California
and Malabar coasts as a healthy cross-cultural experience created
by the combination of entrepreneurship and technology. But that's
only part of the story.
jokes that he imagines Shani and the other tutors being whipped
by evil taskmasters as they toil away in small cubicles. He
doesn't know, though, that Shani lives in a small home with
her parents and brother, who gives her a ride to work each morning
at 3:30. Or that her father, who works at a naval base, didn't
go to college but was determined that his daughter would.
knows that her math tutor, 24-year-old Vineetha Vijayan, spends
her weekends studying for a national exam to teach in college.
She doesn't know, though, that the hardest part of her biology
tutor Roshan's day is when the alarm goes off at 2:30 a.m. and
she rises to make steamed dal and chapatis for her two children
to take to school.
fact, these new relationships are built on a simple economic
principle—giving American pupils homework help at a low
price by paying Indian tutors more than their country's classroom
teachers. And growing numbers of American parents are learning
that the cheapest way to sharpen the skills their youngsters
will need to survive in the competitive global economy is to
move, posthaste, into that global village.