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Technology Based Outsourcing K-12 Mathematics and Science Teachingby M.O. Thirunarayanan
The author suggests that the teaching of mathematics and science in K-12 schools be outsourced to teachers in other countries whose students achieve better in mathematics and science. He outlines the advantages of using telecommunications technologies to outsource the teaching of mathematics and science.
American corporations outsource a number of jobs, especially in the information technology (IT) sector, to countries like India. A number of factors make it not only feasible but also attractive to outsource such jobs. The availability of a highly skilled labor force, a labor force with more qualified people seeking jobs with fewer available jobs resulting in high competition for jobs, the fact that average wages are lower in other countries, and the strength of the US dollar vis a vis the currency of the other country, are some of the factors that make outsourcing a viable option for corporations in advanced countries such as the United States. Similar arguments can be made for outsourcing K-12 math and science teaching. Using telecommunications technologies, teachers from other countries whose students score higher on math and science assessments can teach math and science content to K-12 students in the United States.
The Status of Mathematics and Science Education in the United States
Educators can learn from corporations and start outsourcing the teaching of mathematics and science at the K-12 level to teachers in other countries. Although the United States is considered by some to still be the most technologically advanced nation in the world, teachers in its K-12 schools are lagging far behind teachers in K-12 schools in many other countries, including many third world countries, when it comes to teaching science and mathematics to students in elementary, middle, and high schools. In international comparisons of student achievement, students in the United States performed worse in science and math assessments than students in many other countries (Martin, Mullis, Gonzalez & Chrostowski, 2004; Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez & Chrostowski, 2004).
Outsourcing the Teaching of K-12 Mathematics and Science: An Economically Smart Solution
Due to the unequal rate of exchange of the currencies of the United States of America and countries like India or Singapore, and due to the fact that the cost of living and teacher salaries are generally lower in many other countries, teachers from these other countries can be paid wages that are less than the wages that teachers in the United States are likely to command. According to data published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD, the beginning salary for teachers in the country of Hungary in 2004 was equal to US$ 9,956 (OECD, 2006). During the same year, primary level teachers in the United States earned a beginning salary of US$ 28, 713 (OECD, 2006). According to the national "Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2005" (American Federation of Teachers, 2007), the average salary of teachers in the United States of America during Academic Year 2004-2005 was $47, 602, which is much higher that what beginning teachers earn.
Hungary is one of the many countries whose students scored higher in both international math (Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez & Chrostowski, 2004) and science (Martin, Mullis, Gonzalez & Chrostowski, 2004) assessments. Most school districts in the United States can hire nearly three teachers to teach from Hungary for the same amount of money that they pay for one teacher who is a citizen or resident of this country. School districts can also outsource teaching to more experienced teachers from countries such as Hungary at a substantial salary savings and improve student achievement in math and science at the same time. Hungary is just one example. There are many other countries whose teachers earn lower salaries, but whose students learn more math and science than students in the United States.
Advantages of Technology-Based Outsourcing of Teaching of K-12 Mathematics and Science
Since available internet, Web, and videoconferencing technologies can be used to enable teachers from other countries to teach students in the United States, and since the teachers will not have to physically visit the United States, it will not be necessary to obtain visas for the teachers to visit and work in this country. There is also no foreseeable possibility of these virtual teachers becoming immigrants and settling down in this country, a possibility that some anti-immigration groups of citizens in this country might be concerned about. These groups will have little reason to oppose such outsourcing of the teaching of mathematics and science.
Outsourced teaching contracts can be more closely tied to student achievement, and can be renewed or terminated on the basis of student achievement or other criteria determined by school districts, something that is hard to do in this country due to the strong unionization of the K-12 teaching profession.
In addition, if allowed under US laws, school districts that pay these foreign teachers should be able to withhold all applicable US taxes before making any payments to the teachers. This will ensure that the US government does not lose any tax revenues as a result of outsourcing mathematics and science teaching.
The United States will not have to bear any of the cost of training teachers from the other countries since they have already been trained in their own countries. The achievement of their students in math and science has also been well established by research that compares student achievement in math and science in various countries. Another advantage of outsourcing is that teachers in K-12 schools in the United States can also learn more science and math content as they follow up on activities and discussions initiated by their online counterparts in other countries.
The only potential problem is the ability of teachers in other countries to speak English in a way that American students can understand them. This can be achieved in at least two ways. People who originated from the country of interest and who have lived in the United States for a long time and have returned to their home countries can train teachers in that country to speak English similar to the way that Americans speak the language. Alternatively, a small group of American teachers can travel to the countries in which the expert math and science teachers reside, and teach them American English. During such travels, the teachers from the United States can also learn math and science content from teachers in other countries. Competition from other countries will in the long run help strengthen teacher preparation in this country.
Outsourcing math and science education using technology is a win-win situation for students, schools and parents in the United States. It is possible that in the short term, the egos of American teachers will be hurt. However, in the long run, the United States will most certainly benefit from the enhanced math and science knowledge of its students who will use such knowledge to help the country maintain its technological edge in the world.
American Federation of Teachers. (2007). Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2005. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. Retrieved from the Web on July 27, 2007: http://www.aft.org/salary/2005/download/AFT2005SalarySurvey.pdf.
Martin, Mullis, Gonzalez & Chrostowski. (2004). TIMSS 2003 International Science Report. Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College.
Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez & Chrostowski. (2004). TIMSS 2003 International Mathematics Report. Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College.
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2006). Education at a glance: OECD indicators. Paris: OECD.
Dr. Thirunarayanan teaches in the College of Education and in the Honors College at Florida International University, in Miami, Florida. His interests include integrating technology in educational settings and studying the impact of technology on society.
Source: Ubiquity Volume 9, Issue 21 (May 27 - June 2, 2008)