Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The economics of superstars in an education-mad country

In the 1990s, Son Joo-eun was a success in South Korea’s hypercompetitive business of preparing students for the national college entrance exam. He had an annual income of 720 million won — the equivalent of $573,000 today — as a private tutor helping children from rich families in Seoul win admission to elite universities. ...

In 1999, while watching a home-shopping channel on television, Mr. Son came up with the idea for an online test preparatory school. As South Koreans were embracing broadband Internet, he thought: why not bring classes into the home, too? ... South Korea’s multibillion-dollar test preparation industry has never been the same. ...

About 2.8 million students, including approximately half of all college-bound high school seniors, are members of Megastudy, which allows them access to some of the country’s most celebrated exam tutors.

To compete with the free online schools, Megastudy hires teachers with followings that rival those of pop stars. Some teachers lose their contracts if their popularity ratings drop. Last year, one Megastudy teacher generated 10 billion won (nearly $8 million) in online sales and pocketed 23 percent as his share.
--Choe Sang-Hun, NYT, on teachers as rock stars

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