x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The online space provides a means by which great teachers can scale their service, reach an audience of millions, and earn a fortune.

How come great football players get rich, and great teachers don’t? Almost everyone would agree that teachers are doing something of fundamental social value, while football players aren’t. And yet, we live in a society that massively rewards those who are great at football. Those who are great at teaching? Not so much.

It’s a question that social critics often ask. Which is puzzling, because the answer is obvious: scale. Thanks to mass media, being good at football is a highly scalable talent. You can go from playing in your backyard, to playing in front of a few Sunday enthusiasts, to playing in front of a global audience of millions. Those millions are all prepared to pay a little to watch. And that means you get rich. Teaching, on the other hand, has traditionally been highly unscalable: it’s just you in front of 20 or 30 children, and it doesn’t get any bigger than that. The parents of those 30 children might even be prepared to pay you a lot to do your job: but 30 people paying a lot doesn’t amount to a fortune.

But now, that is set to change. A revolution is sweeping education that will see the world’s best teachers elevated to the status of rock stars, earning vast fortunes and becoming global brands. And that same revolution could transform the lives of millions. In fact, this is already happening. Kim Ki-hoon is a teacher in South Korea — more than that, he’s a nationally famous brand, and earns $4 million a year. Most of that comes via revenue from online videos; Kim’s online tutorials are available online for $4 a pop, and 150,000 South Korean pupils download them every year.

This is significant because South Korea’s fearsomely competitive education system provides a glimpse of the future of education across the globe. In South Korea, it’s commonplace for children to attend private after-school academics called hagwons, intended to supercharge their learning and give them the edge over their peers. This large free market in private education has spurred relentless innovation in the education sector; and a booming market for online video tuition is just one result. Kim spends just three hours a week teaching in classrooms; the rest of the time he’s tending to the media empire created by his online videos.

The mechanism at work here is clear: the online space provides a means by which great teachers can scale their service, reach an audience of millions, and earn a fortune. And that’s great news for anyone who wants highly able, ambitious, energetic people to enter teaching.

The South Korean example would suggest that a vigorous marketplace for teachers is effective, too: 65 years ago most South Koreans were illiterate, now South Korean pupils rank second in the world for literacy, only trailing pupils in Shanghai. So, get ready for the age of the rock star teacher. And don’t think that world will just effect on school-age pupils, either. Our lives are about to be transformed by democratised access to new knowledge, culture, professional skills, and more: and some great teachers are about to get very rich.

David Mattin is the lead strategist at trendwatching.com

artslife@thenational.ae