Exam-obsessed Hong Kong makes celebrity tutors richHONG KONG - Cut-throat competition for exam success in Hong Kong’s high-pressure education system has spawned a new breed of teacher - celebrity tutors with near cult-like status and millionaire lifestyles.
With their glamorous photographs showing megawatt grins and flashy attire splashed across billboards and buses, the star teachers claim to transform failing students into A-grade pupils - and earn up to $1.5 million a year.
The former British colony’s tutoring industry is reportedly worth at least HK$400 million ($51 million), with official figures showing that as many as half of secondary school seniors seek private tutoring after school.
Hong Kong parents, often desperate to help their children succeed in the city’s intense public-exam system, are more than willing to shell out handsome sums for extracurricular help.
“Hong Kong has a very examination-oriented school culture and tutoring is regarded as a kind of educational investment,” said Kelly Mok, an English tutor who teaches at King’s Glory, one of the largest tutorial schools in Hong Kong.
That focus on academic success at almost any cost has turned celebrity tutor Richard Eng into a rich man who wheels around the teeming city in a Lamborghini, wears expensive watches and lives in a multi-million dollar mansion in the city’s Yuen Long district.
“Enrollment in tutorial schools is astoundingly high - we are talking about 100,000 students every year,” Eng told AFP.
Eng and other top tutors have successfully tapped that demand, using flashy, commercial marketing tactics to make themselves household names or academic superstars, otherwise known as “tutor kings” in Cantonese.
His empire, Beacon College, employs over 100 tutors and Eng plans to take the firm public.
“There are only 20,000 degree places in Hong Kong every year, but there are 100,000 aspiring college students” Eng said.
“When you think about this keen competition, you will understand why there is this obsession with doing well in public examinations - especially college-admission ones.”
Dozens of students turned up to Eng’s lecture on a recent spring day to learn how to ace the city’s English public exam for 16 year-olds. Glass walls separate the teenagers into groups of 45 students - the maximum class size allowed by the government.
Clad in skin-tight jeans, a shimmery grey shirt and a big-buckled Gucci belt, the 47-year-old lectured animatedly in a mix of Cantonese and English, enthralling students with his quick-fire delivery over a headset microphone.
But some tutors try to boost class enrollments through unethical means, such as claiming to have access to exam questions, Eng said.
“A few bad apples in the industry tell students they have access to exam questions - it is just a way to bump up student enrollment. But so far as I know, none of it is true - no one really has had that kind of access,” he told AFP.