Monday, August 31, 2009

How to Become a Tutor In Hong Kong

The new scandal de jeur in Hong Kong is the rise of very wealthy tutors for public school students in the island territory just off the coast of China.

Hong Kong private tutor centers are cashing in on changes the public school system curriculum, but long before that, famous and sometimes notorious private tutors have been earning millions teaching students how to be successful at what is, very broadly speaking, a by rote and memorization school system in Hong Kong.

This is a touchy subject in Hong Kong. When vacationing students offer to help other students with summer school homework for money, people tend to get skittish and all sorts of moral volleys are lobbed each way and that.

But private forms of education, like many forms of business in Hong Kong, offer topographies for success in a purely capitalist system.

I was a private tutor once, and let me just demonstrate how easy it was to start up my own mini business while I went to grad school in the territory.

It took a few things:

1. Connections -- First and foremost, this is really how many people get anywhere in China and Hong Kong. I knew the wife of a pretty well-known Goldman Sachs director, who, after discussing with me my career options for funding my journalism degree at the local university, put in a polite word or two to six well-connected and wealthy business people near the Southern district of the island, where I lived at the time.

2. Credentials -- In addition to pursuing a second masters' degree, I had one master's degree in creative writing and a B.A in English literature from American universities. I also used to be a teacher. I spoke well, with a Midwestern accent. These really were all the credentials anyone needed. Just show off the degree.

3. Work Cheaply -- I started rates at only HK$400 an hour. That's about US$60 an hour. That is actually relatively cheap for a private English tutor in Hong Kong, someone who visits the home for one hour to one and a half hours a week.

In addition to providing my own transportation -- bus, taxi, or subway -- my other fixed costs were writing tablets to demonstrate handwriting and spelling techniques, novels and textbooks to provide lessons, and pencils and pens.

Really low overhead. I didn't have facilities I needed to maintain. I didn't have to register my name anywhere, or pay a licensing fee.

I am not sure if the same is true for the island's tuition centers, which line the streets of Wan Chai and offer everything from basic math and science tutorials to the big cash cow, English lessons. They even get their photo spreads on city buses.

Free market capitalism never had a greater market to generate profits. A tutor is portable, self-sufficient, and brand recognition all in one.

And it doesn't hurt that the Chinese value education and use it as a means to advance their life and career.

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