When I first heard the term, “e-tutoring”, I thought of the impersonal, commercial Pepsi-sponsored arithmetic class in a classic episode of The Simpsons. If big companies, technology and education were to mix, I hope it would be more constructive than that example! Some of us may be aware of the Khan Academy for instance which was set up by American educator Salman Khan in 2006 with significant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google – and is one of the first examples of e-tutoring.
Recently, in the UK, tutoring via the Internet is spreading rapidly, with new providers popping up every month. The Tutor’s Trust, Tute and Bright Spark Education, being a few examples. One of the reasons for the surge in these providers could be down to the Pupil Premium Fund which is funding more projects in key areas such as tutoring and ICT although not all of the ones mentioned get this funding. Providers were also reviewed for the first time in, The Good Schools Guide, earlier in the year showing the growing significance of e-tutoring.
One of the latest e-tutoring websites on the scene, Tuteon.com, is designed to help support parents who maybe cannot afford a tutor – even an interactive one. It provides online Maths and English video tutorials, exams and practice exercises all tailored to the National Curriculum. Hemina Patel, co-founder of Tuteon.com and a primary school teacher, said the service is “a genuinely affordable way to improve their child’s literacy and numeracy”. She added: “What’s great about Tute.on is the whole family can use it: from an 8 year old wanting to work on their times-tables, to a 17 year old seeking all-important support and tutoring to secure a place at a top University.”
Valerie Thompson, the head of education charity, The E-Learning Trust, says online tutoring is becoming a “burgeoning and crowded marketplace”. She said: “It’s going to become a competitive market and more of the basic, less glossy providers will lose out to the bigger companies.” Even though services like Tuteon.com can provide a valuable service to poorer households where parents may not have enough time to help their children with homeowrk, Thompson is concerned that none of the providers will reach those who are the most in need.
“Around 800,000 children cannot go online — that’s ten per cent of all children in the school system…I think it’s the duty of those providing the service to ensure this ten per cent is catered for,” says Thompson. She says the E-Learning Foundation intends to start a programme of identifying housing associations that provide Internet access in a bid to bolster coverage for the poorest living in their accommodation.