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Celebrity Tutors

By ITS Education Asia


When I first moved to Hong Kong, I was bemused by the advertisements for tuition services that I saw on posters, billboards, buses and television. After finding work as a tutor, I became even more confused. How could tuition companies possibly have the budget to pay for such extensive advertising? I thought the tutors in the ads must be quite amazing to have their images plastered all over the city, and more importantly, I wondered when my name would be up in lights.

A colleague recently sent me a link to an article entitled Meet the Glamorous Celebrity Tutors of Hong Kong from a US website, Slate.com (http://www.slate.com/id/2302695/), which provided the answers to my questions.

The Slate article reveals that some tuition schools can afford to spend in excess of US$1 million per year on advertising, including slots on prime time television, because of the huge number of students that they teach. Beacon College, one of the oldest and most famous tuition companies in Hong Kong, has about 60 tutors and more than 25,000 students. This is a ratio of 417 students to a tutor. The article depicts such tutors as being more like pop stars than teachers; and according to writer Hillary Brenhouse, tutors can’t wear the same outfit twice in case their ‘fans’ notice, won’t disclose that they are married in case it diminishes their popularity, and can have earnings of more than US$1 million dollars a year. The faces of these tutors are so widely recognised that they have, in effect, become brands in their own rights. Even I can name two or three of them, having seen their posters and bold claims of success on the way to work each day.
So why don’t ITS’ tutors have their faces on posters on the MTR or on the side of buses?

The answer lies in a culinary analogy – food comparison – that the Slate article notes. The article quotes Professor Mark Bray of the University of Hong Kong as saying that, ‘Hong Kong cram schools are like the McDonald’s of education: they have a product, they mass produce it, it’s relatively cheap, it’s probably not very nutritious, but it fills your stomach.’
I have already mentioned the tutor to student ratio at Beacon. At ITS, we have around 50 tutors working with approximately 600 students at any one time; this is a ratio of 12 students to each tutor. We are more like a Michelin-starred restaurant than a McDonalds fast food restaurant: we take immense pride in creating a product that is made to order and which is, in knowledge terms, highly nutritious.

So when am I going to have my name lit up in lights as one of Hong Kong’s celebrity tutors? Well, Hong Kong can breathe a sigh of relief as this is exceedingly unlikely to happen! I want to be known for my well-prepared ‘meals’ that have been created with care and attention, and I want to be part of the ITS team of ‘chefs’ that each day feels a sense of pride and pleasure in the quality of their ingredients, their preparation techniques and their delivery of nutritious meals.

Matt Wisbey

Dulwich College Singapore

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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