Friday, September 30, 2011

India’s Elite University Aspirants Flock to Korean Cram Schools

Getting off the train at the Kota Junction Station in Kota of Rajasthan Province, northern India, arrivals are greeted by flashy billboards advertising several prep schools. The advertisements in mixtures of Hindi and English languages aim to attract aspirants to the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology by displaying pictures of new top-scoring students entering the elite school.

In India, the medium-sized city Kota is known as the Mecca of IIT JEE (Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Exam) aspirants. The nation`s largest coaching hub serves more than 100,000 students coming from all parts of India, who account for one-sixth of the city`s population. Most of the students there are high school seniors who hope to be admitted to IIT.

As demonstrated in the recently released Indian movie “Five Point Someone – What Not to Do at IIT,” holding an IIT degree means much more than just an educational achievement. In the Indian society, where caste-based social discrimination is commonplace and income inequality is pronounced, an IIT education provides a fast-track pass to upward social mobility. Therefore, competition for admission is fierce with only 1 percent of the exam applicants selected.

Since public education is not sufficient to win the ferocious competition for IIT admission, the prep schools in Kota are thriving. The city has six large educational centers with more than 5,000 registered students each and numerous smaller ones. They replace an otherwise public high school routine in which attendance is not mandatory for seniors; they only need to pass graduation exams.

Turning around a traffic circle in downtown, a huge blue billboard stands on a three-story building, showing pictures of teachers of physics, chemistry and mathematics. The billboard urges students to apply for admission to an institute and try its upscale tutoring system to ensure better exam results. The billboard somewhat resembles that of Korean cram schools armed with renowned teaching staffs. At the bottom of the billboard is shown the contact number to the school, “ETOOS Academy.” It is a branch of Korea`s coaching school conglomerate ETOOS, commonly known as Chungsol Academy in Korea, which entered the Indian educational market last April.

The road leads into a huge district of numerous prep schools. Their buildings and flashy billboards constitute the unique landscape of the educational complex, which houses Bansal, India`s top prep school. It boasts 20,000 student registrations. Bansal`s neighborhood has its smaller coaching rivals such as Career Point and Vibrant Academy.

ETOOS Academy is located towards the end of the street. The 2,300 square-meter one-story building houses 11 classrooms, with over 1,000 registered students taught physics, chemistry and mathematics by 21 instructors. ETOOS Academy is unique among Kota`s coaching centers as it aims to offer tailored educational service to satisfy the needs of individual students by providing faculty-based, topic-based and level-based class options. In the traditional Indian tutoring system, students are not given the option to choose the coaching staff they favor. Indian cram schools assign teachers to groups of students as large as several hundred without individual learning needs taken into consideration. ETOOS capitalizes on the void, employing the subject-based teaching system of Korean cram schools. Before launching the Indian branch, the Korean company even invited their prospective Indian teachers to Seoul last February to give them a better sense of the Korean cram school culture.

“Four out of every five students sitting in the lectures at existing Indian coaching centers have difficulty in following the demanding teaching materials. Operating subject-based class options, we are serving the needs of such students,” Director Kang Sung-jin of Kota ETOOS explains. In other words, ETOOS is a cram school for students who are registered in other schools.

The Korean company is also unique in its pay system, which encourages teachers to reach their maximum potential. The salary scheme rewards the most popular and capable instructors with a bonus pay based on the number of students registered for his or her classes – a modification of Korean cram school payment system dividing registration fees paid by students evenly between the teacher and the school. The strong incentive system has rapidly transformed the teaching culture at Kota ETOOS. Competent teachers compete among themselves and top performers enjoy rising popularity among students, which leads to a skyrocketing pay level. For example, Prince Singh, 32, chemistry teacher, says that his earnings more than doubled at ETOOS. “The strong individual incentive system is famous among Kota`s exam tutors,” he says.

Second-year high school student Shubham, 16, came from Raipur, capital city of Chhattisgarh Province, 1,000 kilometers away, dreaming of entering the IIT to become an automobile engineer. He says the ETOOS system is well known among his fellow students, who appreciate the chance to make choices for their favorite teachers and class hours at their convenience. At ETOOS the class size is smaller than the conventional Indian cram schools so that students can take advantage of the lectures better tailored for individual learning needs, he says.

In sum, Kota ETOOS marks a successful inroad made by a Korean educational conglomerate as the first foreign operation ever in India`s coaching hub. After three months in operation, the number of registered students at ETOOS topped 1,000, putting the school well past the break-even point by mid-July. Its student registration goal is 5,000 by the end of this year.

Park Seong-bok, head of India ETOOS, believes that the success of Kota ETOOS proves that the Korean cram school system can thrive in the Indian educational market. The company plans to further expand next year, establishing another Korean-style cram school and a regular private school in the capital city of Delhi and Hyderabad, the equivalent of Kota in southern India. ETOOS says video-on-demand tutorial programs for Indian students are also in preparation, following the trend in Korea. Commercial web schools are already highly popular among Korean students. “We think that exporting Korea`s highly competitive private educational system also contributes to promoting Korean culture abroad,” Park says.

ETOOS is not the sole Korean educational giant expanding its reach overseas. Daekyo was one of the first making inroads abroad by establishing Daekyo USA in Los Angeles in 1991 and Southeast Asian operations in Malaysia 2004 and Hong Kong in 2005. Before launching a global business, Daekyo established a strong domestic reputation for individualized instruction and home-visit tutoring dubbed “Noon-nopi” (meaning “eye level”). Targeting international markets, the company rebranded its tutorial model as “E.nopi,” and operates regional “learning centers” to substitute for home-visit tutoring.

Currently, Daekyo is in 15 countries, by either setting up legal entities or franchising branches. In Hong Kong, for example, E.nopi targets pre-schoolers and primary school children, selling their competitive mathematics and English tutorial materials. In Hong Kong, registered membership includes 10,000 children and 86 franchised learning centers are in operation. Daekyo is only next to Japanese tutorial competitor Kumon in the Hong Kong market. “E.nopi aims to serve educational needs of Hong Kong`s wealthy parents and their children. Monthly registration fee is set at 650 Hong Kong dollars (or US$100), more expensive than Kumon membership by 100 Hong Kong dollars, but parents here continue to opt for E.nopi tutorial system,” says Seo Jeong-mi, head of Daekyo Hong Kong.

E.nopi Belcher`s, one of Daekyo`s learning centers in Hong Kong, is located at an upscale shopping mall in the Sai Wan area. The center has 200 students for mathematics and 100 for English. Ai Xi, a 25-year-old Hong Kong native who taught English at a regular primary school, says that she is happy about her job at Daekyo Hong Kong. “In the public school I could not teach children according to their different learning levels of English. Here, the E.nopi system provides diversified teaching materials for children of different linguistic levels. Teaching is more efficient also because each class is designed to work with only six children of similar learning levels,” she says.

JEI Corporation is another Korean company that eyes self-learning tutorial markets in the United States, China, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. Woongjin Think Big also operates publication, franchising and online businesses in the United States, China and Thailand. MegaStudy, one of Korea`s fastest-growing educational service providers, launched a website for global online education last November. The company is rapidly expanding in China, moving beyond its initial base in Guangzhou to Wuhan, Shanghai and Nanjing.

“Educational sector is thought as one of the 10 most promising business areas for the 21st century as the world economy transforms into an increasingly knowledge-based system,” says Professor Oh Dae-young of Kyungwon University. “Korean educational service providers have proved their great business potential overseas, establishing successful business footholds especially in India and Hong Kong. As globalization has opened a new window of opportunities for borderless education, Korean companies need to further grow their international competitiveness,” he says.


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