Teachers are a hugely undervalued community. We've all had a teacher; some will have played a huge role in our educational experiences and some will have passed relatively unnoticed and unappreciated through our lives. But wherever you were taught and whoever your teachers were, I can almost guarantee that none were classed as a celebrity. Your average teacher in the UK is barely celebrated, let alone commercialised. This is the case in Asia though, where many tutors have now established an enormous media presence and often earn six-figure sums.
The tutors to have attained such a status (one prevalent example being the 'tutor kings' and 'tutor queens' of Hong Kong) have quite cleverly identified the presence and influence of celebrity icons and their place within the media, and manipulated this to fit their circumstances. Model-like photographs, the use of billboards, TV advertisements and designer clothing are all used as tools in the upkeep of their status. The reality in many cities is that you may be walking down the street and a bus drives past with your tutor's face on the side of it.
Consumer culture sells. Young , good looking teachers are used to attract students to tutorial schools throughout Asia, using a showy approach to the sell the idea and promise of good grades. All of this decorates their profession; they are, despite their lavish appearance, tutors. They're ability to deliver good grades and exam results remains (or should remain) a priority and central to their cause.
One prime example of a celebrity tutor is Richard Eng from Beacon College, Hong Kong. He's one of the original 'star' tutors. Richard has branded himself extremely well - his image appears on resources like folders, study-tip booklets and stationary. The result of such products prompted a huge reaction from the youth of Hong Kong and launched him into near-superstar status. In a bid to abandon the boring image that often surrounds teachers, these tutors have created exciting and entertaining learning environments; and arguably an educational icon is better than one like Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj or someone from the world of reality television.
When I was reading about this, two conflicting questions arose regarding the tutors. Are they undermining themselves and their efforts by glamorising their services rather than authenticating them? Or are these tutors taking advantage of the desire for educational success and using it to fuel their own fame?
The demand for out-of-school tutors and additional learning stems ultimately from ambitious parents, who are placing a huge focus on their children securing a place at a top university or school. Parents will invest in whatever they think will successfully 'get their kid in'. This then prompts the question of whether this is putting some Asian pupils, who can afford tutors, at an advantage - and as a result of this, is there an increasing educational divide? Or is this generally improving the standard in schooling systems there? Regardless, it seems like an enormous amount of pressure on pupils who in many cases are still at a very early stage in their educational development.
Of course when comparing any culture to our own, it's important to think about what equates to success and how much emphasis is placed on educational development in country in question. It's an interesting phenomenon though, and one that sparks a number of debates leading off onto various tangents. What do you think?