Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Celebrity Tutor: Kelly Mok

Magazine article Foreign Policy

The Celebrity Tutor: Kelly Mok

Article excerpt

KELLY MOK'S FACE graces magazines, billboards, and bus decals throughout Hong Kong. She makes more than $128,000 annually. She owns two luxury cars and wears shoes that cost a third of Hong Kong's average monthly salary. The 30-year-old is living the high life--all because she helps teenagers pass exams.

Mok is among Hong Kong's "tutor kings and queens," a class of local celebrity forged in the frenzy surrounding high-stakes standardized tests that determine students' college eligibility. Cultural expectations of academic achievement, as well as legions of affluent families, have made private tutoring big business--to the tune of $132 million in 2014 alone. Over 85 percent of high school seniors receive private supplementary education, often at one of about 900 tutoring centers that promise to teach students the tricks they need to make the grade.

Mok works for one of the most popular centers, King's Glory Education, and has made a name for herself by catering to elite students hoping to ace their way into the Ivy League or Oxbridge. Every year, she says, over 80 percent of her students pass an English-language exam; dozens go on to top universities. Mok is also attractive--slim build, bright smile, doe eyes--which for King's Glory is a big advantage in the competitive world of student recruitment. "[The students] ask whether I'm single or married. I don't tell them, of course," she says. "It's like how some celebrities don't answer because it affects the number of fans they have."

Her services are expensive--a 30-hour course costs $3,600--and Mok admits that she's paid merely to teach to the test. Yet she takes her work seriously, and her fame too. "We need to have a good image," Mok told Foreign Policy in January. "A lot of students see tutors as their idols."



I go through at least five boxes of 24 lozenges a month. Talking as much as we do, all tutors lose their voices. Being in the classroom is like being on a talk show. I have to be engaging. If the students find me boring, they won't come back next month.



I hook this up to a projector during sessions and teach using PowerPoint slides. I also use it to occasionally update the center's Facebook page. It has thousands of followers, and it's one of the main ways we tutors communicate with students. …

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