IN Hong Kong, tuition is an expensive but necessary fact of life.
The tuition industry there brings in about HK$1million (S$200,000) monthly, and tuition centres there resort to various gimmicks to attract students.
Faces of well-groomed tutors, with catchy nicknames and serious expressions, fill the backs of Hong Kong's buses, and the accompanying advertisements often state their expertise in various school subjects.
Some centres bring in music and movie stars to give performances.
Others even offer gifts and gift-redemption points that can be used to obtain designer clothes and accessories like handbags and wallets.
The gimmicks work so well that students, not their parents, usually decide which tutor they want to go to, reported the South China Morning Post.
Mr Thomas Yan, who is in his early 40s and has been a tutor since 1995, said: 'Students bought the images tutors sold and went to their classes. I cannot tell whether it was tutors or students who triggered this phenomenon, but it has become a psychological game now.'
Tutor Kevin Ko, 39, said parents were to blame for handing money to their children without checking on what they are paying for.
He said: 'These young and immature 'decision makers' focus on tutors' looks rather than teaching. Some tutors in their 20s claim they have been executives of multinational companies ... only kids would have trusted them.
'They (the tutors) post huge personal photos on advertisements and think students come to lessons because they are handsome or pretty. Some tutors refuse to say if they are married because they are afraid of losing 'fans' in class.'
Mr Ko said competition was so intense that tutors were stealing one anothers' ideas.
A few years ago, he spotted an 'undercover agent' at his school who had been recording his methods, and passing them off as 'secret skills' in other agencies' pamphlets.
Mr Ko said some schools run free seminars and workshops to promote their services, with some inviting well-known artists to entertain those attending.
At one tuition agency, King's Glory Education, every HK$1 in fees earns a bonus point that can be used in online auctions for trendy items.
Other schools put a cash value on an A grade, awarding HK$2,000 even if the student took only one lesson.
Tutor Herman Yeung offers potential pupils a handphone screen-cleaner bearing his name, while tutor Alex Lam showed off his celebrity status by becoming an actor in a web-based soap opera.
The wealth of some star tutors was illustrated by a recent court case involving Karson Oten Fan Karno, popularly known as K Oten.
The so-called 'tutor god' was ordered to pay HK$8.8 million in damages for breaching his contract with King's Glory Education.
The court heard he earned an entitlement to a HK$2.65 million share of the agency's profits in about seven weeks in 2006.
In contrast, a senior secondary school teacher can earn a maximum of HK$69,000 a month, and a primary school teacher, HK$53,000.
Mr Leo Lee, 25, a new tutor, said he has spent HK$30,000 of his own money on advertising, producing notes and hiring an assistant, but is confident he will quickly earn it all back, and more.
Mr Lee, who graduated from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology with a first-class honours degree in economics and finance, said he does not mind the advertising hype.
He said: 'You need reputation and recognition to be a successful tutor. We are like celebrities.
'We need the publicity.'
This article was first published in The New Paper.