Fame, fortune for Web tutors in education-crazy S.Korea

Thu Jul 2, 2009 8:34am EDT
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By Jon Herskovitz and Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - For a teacher who never sees his students and instructs only online, South Korean Woo Hyeong-cheol makes a lot of money, $4 million a year to be exact.

Woo is not affiliated with any institution that is part of the official school system, but the 46-year-old math instructor is considered one of the best cram school tutors in education-obsessed South Korea, with his Web-based classes as well-known among test-taking teens as top-rated TV dramas.

"School teachers are concerned about creating moral people. We focus more on getting the students better grades in a short amount of time. That's why we are needed and popular," said Woo, who commands a salary higher than almost all of the top baseball players in the country's professional league.

Woo is among a group of about a dozen instructors raking it in because they are thought to be the best at raising scores.

The bulk of their income comes from online classes that are easily accessible in the world's most-wired country, where more than 90 percent of households can receive high-speed Internet.

South Korean teens are often in the classroom for at least 10 to 12 hours a day, preparing for entrance exams that determine whether they will enter a top university, which in turn can lead to an elite career path and which can even make them a good catch when the time comes to get married.

Last year, about three out of four students received some form of private education after school hours. The money spent on cram schools and tutors hit 20.9 trillion won ($16.33 billion), according to the National Statistical Office.

Woo, dubbed "the shovel" for his threats to whack unruly teens with big metal objects, posts tutorials on the Internet, where they are accessed by about 50,000 paying subscribers.   Continued...

<p>English teacher Rose Lee gives a lecture at a cram school in Seoul June 18, 2009. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won</p>