A tutorial in selling sex

In Hong Kong, some tutors are hiking up their skirts in hopes of outdoing their competition with outright sex appeal.

Published January 23, 2007 6:04PM (EST)

Anyone who thought -- as I did until about five minutes ago -- that college prep tutoring in America had gotten out of hand should check out this article about the tutoring scene in Hong Kong. Apparently there's so much competition for students that tutoring companies have turned to a totally bizarre selling point: sex appeal.

Yes, you heard that right. As Ken Ng, head of one of the city's biggest tutoring businesses, put it (in reference to two of his tutors), "Their long legs are the most beautiful ones in the tutorial industry." Ng, who apparently has a knack for quotes that I find appalling, later continued, "When our rivals are equally good at predicting the exam questions, we need a new ground to outrun them ... And that is the tutor's appearance."

How is this even possible? According to the article, in 2005 a third of secondary school students had private tutoring, which is a 25 percent increase from five years ago. With so many students searching for tutors, the tutors need to make themselves stand out. Gone are the days of dorky math majors making extra cash by helping high schoolers with parabolas. Some tutors have resorted to hiring stylists, fashion designers and photographers (according to Ng), and they occasionally put up personal Web sites so that students can check out their pictures, read their online journals and watch videos of them teaching.

As a former teacher at an all-boys school, I can't even begin to tell you how creeped out this makes me. Granted, I don't know Hong Kong's record on teachers getting sexually involved with students. But I think it's still messed up to encourage students to think of their tutors as sexual objects, especially when -- though the article doesn't explicitly describe the gender breakdown in the Hong Kong tutoring market -- none of the people mentioned in the piece are male. How's this trend for encouraging appropriate and respectful professional relationships later in life?

Let's hope the Princeton Review doesn't take a semester abroad.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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