The test prep industry in China is cutthroat, to put it nicely. The South China Morning Post published an article on the intense competition amongst private tutors in Hong Kong, which sounds so fierce and backstabbing that it’s just begging for a reality television show (if one’s not in the works already). Popular tutors can make as much as one million HKD a month, provided that they have the hype and publicity to keep the students flowing in.
“It is the students, but not the parents, who decide which tutor [to go to],” said Kevin Ko Sik-ka, 39, who has been a tutor for nearly 20 years. “These young and immature `decision makers’ focus on tutors’ looks rather than teaching. Some tutors in their twenties claim they have been executives of multinational companies … only kids would have trusted them.”
Mr Ko, who owns his own studio and conducts his lessons entirely by DVD, said many tutors were narcissistic. “They post huge personal photos on advertisements and think students come to lessons because they are handsome or pretty. Some tutors refuse to say if they are married because they are afraid of losing `fans’ in class,” he said.
Mr Ko has spent HK$1.2 million this year on advertising, including front-page newspaper advertisements. He said competition was so intense that tutors were stealing each others’ ideas. A few years ago he spotted an “undercover agent” at his school who had been recording his methods. They were then published as “secret skills” in the pamphlets of other tutors.”
The cult of charisma that’s emerged is ludicrous to say the least. Successful tutors are celebrities in their own right: one even stars in a popular web soap opera. And we thought that Da Shan’s popularity was over the top.
Reading about Hong Kong’s debauched test prep culture has brought back fond memories of the gaokao for us: all of the hours of studying, preparing, and celebrating that we spent diligently blogging about. But competition to get into a top tier school in the Mainland is fairly different than the fashionable designer-prep in Hong Kong, which resembles more of a luxury market than a program for getting better grades. If you need a refresher on the trials of the gaokao, check out the documentary Senior Year (高三)
So, comparatively, Hong Kong test prep emphasizes popularity and facade, whereas the mainland’s method of choice is the grueling, intensive boot camp. We wonder how effective such camps could possibly be, in light of the scary reports coming out of internet addiction camps, which have their problems, to say the least.
But a million HKD dollars a year sounds pretty lucrative to us, especially for being pretty and popular with perhaps a little tutoring every now and then.