Distance no longer a factor with group video calls through Skype

Long rows of bicycles and two-wheelers parked outside tuition centres, anxious students driving through peak hour traffic, rushing from one tuition centre to another, and spiralling travel expenses could become history if the concept of online tuition picks up in the city.

Naresh Muthiah, Director of the Youth Employment Training Bureau at S.S. Colony here, engages expert teachers in subjects such as physics, mathematics and chemistry to provide tuition online to students of Class X, XI and XII. Students learn from their homes and all they need is a computer or a laptop with a web camera and a broadband connection.

The tuitions are conducted by making group video calls through Skype. N. Raman, a 70-year-old retired professor of Physics from Madura College, is the first teacher to be enlisted for this novel service. His passion for teaching and the chance to interact face-to-face with multiple students sitting far away made him accept the offer.

Apart from the videoconferencing facility which enables him to see and hear his students, Mr. Raman also uses a digital pen and writing pad to jot down questions which appear on the computer screens of his students.

The students, in turn, key in their answers, using software such as Microsoft Paintbrush, and forward them for his evaluation.

“The technology we have adopted to conduct online tuition encompasses every aspect that a student or a parent would expect from bricks and mortar tuition centres. Even the blackboard does not become obsolete here. It only changes form as a digital writing pad. Online tuitions are a boon to parents and students who are relieved of the hassle of travelling to tuition centres,” he says.

Online tuitions are cost-effective, Mr. Muthiah emphasises.

Parents of Class X, XI and XII are out of pocket by Rs. 5,000 to 6,000 per subject when their children go to tuition centres.

On top of that, there is the travel expenditure incurred in reaching the centres.

“Working parents are the worst affected as they do not have the time to drop their children at tuition centres, pick them up and again drop them off at another centre handling a different subject. They are also anxious about their children riding bicycles, motorcycles and travelling on auto rickshaws. This anxiety and huge expenditure is eliminated by opting for online tuition,” he points out.

Muthiah is a premium subscriber of Skype and pays Rs.450 a month for linking up with 23 students at a time. “If I pay another Rs.450, I can connect with another 23 students. The students can learn from the comfort of their homes without having to squeeze into the stairway, corridors, and verandahs of tuition centres,” he observes.

Referring to the free laptops distributed by the government to class XII students, he says those laptops could be used for conducting online tuitions in rural areas. “All that the students need is a web camera which costs around Rs. 500 and a broadband connection which is available for Rs.750 a month with unlimited data download facility,” he adds.

“Making money is not my aim. Being a retired professor, I receive a pension. We are ready to offer these services even free of charge to rural students. Our goal is to use the technology for the benefit of those students who want to learn from good teachers but are unable to because of the distance factor,” Mr. Raman affirms.