HE’S YOUNG. He's handsome. His face is on billboards and buses all over town. He earns a fortune. Teenagers worship him. He is . . . a math teacher.
Anyone who thinks there are hardly any differences left between East and West should check out the education scene.
In the nightmare school I barely survived in the UK, teachers were paid in table scraps and got chairs thrown at them. Now I live in Asia, where teachers are superstars who live in luxury and bathe in asses' milk.
The phenomenon of the rock star teacher started in China in the 1990s with a man who added two things to his after-school cramming class that had never been seen before in Asian education:
1) fun and
2) a money-back guarantee.
He was soon standing on stage in front of massive audiences of cheering youngsters doing English conversation classes.
TEACHER: “Let us speak English, the language of Shakespeare and his even more famous descendent Britney Spears.”
HUGE AUDIENCE: “Yes we will!”
TEACHER: “Let us willingly pay huge fees for this honor.”
HUGE AUDIENCE: “Yes we will!”
TEACHER: You will never forget what I teach you, will you?”
The phenomenon spread around Asia, and now many cities have superstar teachers offering classes from science to math. But in some places, particularly in South Asia and Indo-China, parents still help children get exam passes with traditional methods, such as bribery, corruption or just turning up at school with a big stick. These methods don't work at my kids' schools, unfortunately.
Yet I was reluctant to send them to a new-style cramming school. Did I really want to finance a new swimming pool for a brattish rock star tutor who already earns more than I do?
So instead, I gave the kids a lengthy lecture about how if they worked hard at their studies they would eventually be rewarded with a job and an income.
“In ten years, you will have your OWN money and buy whatever you like, whenever you like.”
They considered this. “Can you give us the cash in advance, Dad?” If there were exams in “answering back”, my son would get an “A star” grade.
In the end, my wife found an after-school tutoring centre which seemed efficient, well-run and honest, and signed up the children for top-up classes. They went reluctantly the first week, uncomplainingly the second week and enthusiastically the third week. “Can I do MORE subjects next term?” one child asked me. “Can I go every day after school?”
Huh? Was she really asking for extra homework? This was suspicious. I decided this needed investigating.
At the after-school tutorial centre, I found a toy shop—but none of the things in it could be bought for cash. They could only be bought with tutorial points. Put in long hours of study, and you can buy real stuff at the end of each session. Some of the gear in the shop was really cool, and the “instant gratification” way of getting it for a few sessions of study was irresistible.
I'm signing up for classes myself next term. I’ve decided I need to practice speaking English, the language of Shakespeare and his even more famous descendent Britney Spears.