What is the Future of Tutoring?
Case Study on Beacon College — The Hong Kong Tutor Kingdom
Beacon College, owned by BExcellent Group Holdings Ltd (SEHK:1775), is a tutoring kingdom with 60,000 students enrolled in its subject courses, mock examinations, self-paced online classes, and university information sessions, etc. In 2019 alone, Beacon has held over 546,000 class sessions in its 13 locations, with over 600,000 enrolled students.
The tutoring industry dynamics is highly subject to the regional education systems, including course delivery, examination methods, and standardization across schools. For instance, Hong Kong, Canada, and the United States have entirely different curriculum, admission standards, and competitiveness. However, Beacon is well-suited to thrive under Hong Kong’s fast-paced, dense, and competitive education environment.
While most regions acknowledge international baccalaureate for university admission, middle/high-school education dynamics are entirely different. Hong Kong’s geography and examination setting has nurtured a business opportunity — Public Examination Tutoring.
Hong Kong Education System
University Admission for Universities in Hong Kong is either be held through Joint University Programmes Admissions System (JUPAS) or International Baccalaureate/SAT (Non-JUPAS, mostly for international students). Domestic students mostly compete in JUPAS with their DSE scores. Each university program has a specific requirement for subjects and minimum scores. Some more competitive programs required supplementary applications and interviews. However, most programs do only required test scores and perhaps reference letters.
Students are also required to take four mandatory subjects: Chinese, English, Mathematics, and Liberal Education. With two to three electives ranging from Economics, Accounting, History, Chinese History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Information Technology, Physical Education, Visual Art. All these matters of the subject follow a strict curriculum designated by the Bureau of Education, therefore most likely, the same curriculum will be taught/tested in a similar way across different schools.
As a result, unlike the US or Canada, Hong Kong students have presented themselves as perfect candidates for tutoring colleges like Beacon College.
Beacon Value Proposition
- Teaching Expertise
Individual tutors are mostly university students or full-time workers with part-time responsibilities. They have developed a profound understanding of the subject matter; however, they are not experts with examination techniques. Despite the great flexibility of time accommodation and 1-on-1 in-person teaching experience, students might not be able to draw conclusive insights that will be directly applicable in exam preparations. Not to mention that individual tutoring experiences varied a lot, depending on the teacher.
Group tutoring is much more cost-efficient as a teacher’s time is expended by hundreds of students. Given the great profitability, often the teacher can hire additional staff to research the subject matter, whether it is reviewing DSE’s precedent themes, authoring the booklets, or communicating with alumni students for insights. Classes are held in a one-way conversation where the lecturer will strategically go through the necessary material. Most times, 20% of the booklet will be taught in class, where students are welcomed to further their study by going through the rest of the material.
2. Social Effects among Students
Hong Kong secondary students (middle and high school students) are likely overwhelmed with academics and extra-curricular on a full-year basis. The common schedule for a typical school day is around 8:00 am — 4:00 pm. Not to mention the homework, dictation, and assignments given for these students oftentimes students to form relationships together by studying together or attending school (musical/sports/art/house) events together.
Beacon College has recognized the phenomenon to gauge students' interest and has marketed itself strongly with referral discounts and direct marketing. Having ultra-big billboards and marketing discounts, students began to attend tutorials in groups organically and eventually fueled Beacon’s explosive growth in the past few years.
3. Streaming Capabilities
Given most classes are held in a one-way-conversation, Beacon decided to record the class that was taught in person and replayed it in different classes in different locations. To increase class availability for students with different time commitments, ~90% of the classes are held in a video-format. Less than 40,000 of the 546,000 class sessions were held in-person where the teacher was present; otherwise, it would have been held in a classroom with a teaching assistant paid at minimum wage.
The streaming capabilities have allowed Beacon to scale their operations exponentially. Beacon College can fill all rooms in all locations on weekdays, evenings, and weekends.
What is the future of Tutoring? Is Beacon’s Business Model Feasible in North America?
To match Beacon's level of demand, there are a few key assumptions that have to hold. A standardized public exam's standardized curriculum needs to be top-achievers (from parents — purchasers, and the students — users).
The increasing adoption of media and consumption of digital contents continued to assimilate into our day-to-day. There will be opportunities for educated professionals (Teachers) to create self-paced online courses and sell them by subject matter (English, Math, Computer Science, etc.) in a subscription model.
Regardless, there are a few business decisions that need to be made:
(1) Should we allow students to view our contents at all times (like Netflix) or only during designed ‘class time’ (like Beacon College). The first option provides great flexibility, whereas the latter option results in greater attention span, with the possibility of integrating real-time breakout discussions.
(2) If we had to develop study material for students, would it be better to ship a hardcover textbook over or sending pdfs files? PDF files could be a cost-efficient option, but it will de-value because of the ease of transfer via the internet.
(3) How many changes are anticipated for the SAT exam from one year to the other? Old materials could cannibalize new materials if the exam curriculum remained unchanged for years.
The future of education can be prevailing and interesting. COVID reminded us of the internet’s power to connect individuals, as well as the value of digital content. There are companies like Instructure and 2U that aid universities in taking their educational (career) support to another level in education. Meanwhile, the tutoring industry has not yet changed much for a long time. The unstandardized supply of tutors, high churns from students, lack of academic support from materials, and the ambitious need for achievements will fuel future innovations.