Thursday, May 28, 2009

Outsourcing Education

For decades, students from India have come to the U.S. to attend college. Now it appears likely that U.S. students will receive at least part of their K-12 education via India.

Back in 1977, Macmillan established an offshore unit in India to aid with production of four-color books. Today, outsourcing of book production to India is growing by 50 percent per year, with industries such as bpo offering everything from illustration and layout to writing, editing, and printing. You can make a book in India for less than half of what it costs in the States. As this article suggests, outsourcing of publishing will be a $1.1 billion industry in India by next year.

The result is inexpensive, speedily published books that look very nice. However, as an editor friend points out, they are written "in a language that sounds like it could be English, but it’s not. Instead it’s in a language that's just enough like English to make you think you understand what they’re saying, but you really don’t." The books are also, according to everyone I know in U.S. publishing who works with India, riddled with errors. If you view either of the two websites I cited, you can see what I mean.

Could this improve over time, as Indian writers learn to Americanize their language? Probably. But right now, today, your child is probably working with at least one textbook that contains materials produced in India, often with minimal oversight from U.S. publishers. That's a lot of power to cede to another country, even if it didn't directly affect my personal bottom line.

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