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Value Creators Aim For Wider Reforms

Education and business is an alchemy that is only recently been accepted in India. The ‘noble cause’ of education has for long been seen as a domain associated with the government and public bodies. But some visionaries have changed this perspective. They have added value to the concept and processes of education. They have also developed it as a sustainable business practice, while maintaining its noble ideals.

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Education and business is an alchemy that is only recently been accepted in India. The ‘noble cause’ of education has for long been seen as a domain associated with the government and public bodies. But some visionaries have changed this perspective. They have added value to the concept and processes of education. They have also developed it as a sustainable business practice, while maintaining its noble ideals.

Linking education to the big demand and market practices, these first-generation ‘edupreneurs’ have been able to create tremendous value; and some have been even able to bring in revolutionary changes and remove the stigma of ‘private’ education.

The private sector is, in fact, an important force in education. But many are critical of the regulatory environment that, they say, restricts the advancement and adaption of new models in the education system; others say existing policies are not practical and the war between the Centre and the states (education being a state subject) often strangulates innovation and speedy decision making.

The big players in private education admit the fly-by-night operators among them contribute to the deteriorating system. But they also point out the lack of timely policy reforms and limited focus on standardised curriculum, capacity building including teacher training, create bigger challenges. Amidst big talk, it is the small facilities that matter — clean toilets, better play ground and computers. These are the inputs that make the business of education successful, especially in rural India, thereby contributing to the overall growth of the sector, they say.

How are the big players of India’s private institutions impacting education, and in which direction are they driving? Come, meet a few.

World-class Effort
“The evolving educational landscape in India offers tremendous opportunities for applying creativity and innovation in the teaching and learning processes,” says Nita Ambani, founder and chairperson of the Dhirubhai Ambani International School. Ambani, who leads a chain of day schools under Reliance Foundation, believes that continued innovation in teaching and learning calls for preparing children to think critically and imaginatively and adapt to new technologies and ways of learning, and apply the same to real-world situations.

Reliance Foundation, which runs 13 schools spread across Maharashtra and Gujarat, has educated at least 15,000 students and now plans to expand to other states. It started the flagship Dhirubhai Ambani International School in 2003 with a view to offer world-class educational opportunities in the city of Mumbai.

The school is affiliated to the Council for the Indian School Certificate examinations and Cambridge International Examinations to prepare students for the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education year 10 examinations.

Focus On Job Creation
Founder and chairman of the Rs 1,000-crore technology and management education group School of Communication and Management Studies (SCMS), G. P. C. Nayar believes a career-oriented education system suits India better where increased job creation should be the prime focus. The SCMS group, which has grown from a single institution under the Prathap Foundation for Education and Training founded in 1976, to a group of nine distinct institutions in various disciplines, including engineering, biotechnology and management, today has active presence across India and the Middle East.

Nayar, who held top management positions in corporate houses, wished to impart quality education at affordable costs. The dream came true with the establishment of a single management institution — the SCMS in Kerala almost four decades ago.
Sharp focus on quality education soon gave his institution an edge over others. SCMS grew to become a centre of excellence for management and communication studies in a very short span of time.

“Quality assurance and committed efforts to provide innovative education only make a venture successful in this space,” says Nayar, who is now working on a project that can integrate K-12 and the professional courses in the same campus within the proposed smart city in Kerala.

“Education being a state subject, the widely diverse centre-state policies and the variations in state regulations is another challenge,” says Nayar. Illustrating his point, he adds: when he started SCMS Cochin in 1992 with an aim to produce engineering and technical professionals for post-liberalisation India, the Kerala government did not give approval to his courses in the private sector that time. On the other hand, other states did.

Pioneering e-Learning
“The market for education has transformed in India, as it has globally, but structural limitations remain,” says Shantanu Prakash, chairman and managing director of Educomp Solutions, who e-enabled Indian classrooms with his technology education venture two decades ago. An investor in several innovative early-stage and mid-stage companies focusing on the Internet, education, media, gaming, finance and infrastructure, Prakash believes the new market needs in India can only be met by ‘debottlenecking’ its education system.

“A new class of consumers is emerging (for education) that is willing to pay to get the best value for money. But the limited choice frustrates them and it creates abnormal imbalances of supply and demand in the system. So it is imperative that we ‘debottleneck’ the system and let free market forces shape the choice for consumers,” he says.

Prakash’s Educomp Solutions, which has a presence across a wide education ecosystem, claims to be the largest education company in India. Since its inception in 1994, the group has empowered over 30 million learners and educators across 65,000 schools with new learning methods, it claims.

As a first generation entrepreneur who built a widely acknowledged brand in e-learning, Prakash strongly supports a liberal education regime. “The restrictive regulatory framework in India has been largely responsible for limiting the growth potential of the industry,” he feels.

Lack of uniform norms across the country is another challenge. “Our muddled approach to education is retarding exponential growth, innovation and delivery in one measure; and on the other hand, the states are hardly able to do any better. In fact, the least the government can do is to arrive at a level playing field across the country with common norms across states,” he says. “Our unschooled millions will be without opportunity to study if we delay this (reforms) any further,” he adds.

Industry statistics show there are at least 140 million kids out of school, and India has one of the lowest gross enrolment ratios in the ASEAN region. According to Prakash, the need of the hour is to reach education to every under-served region of the country and this can only happen with free flow of investment into the sector apart from a paradigm shift in the ways we teach, learn and assess students.

“All surveys conducted to evaluate educational quality in India, including the ASER survey by Pratham (a leading NGO) today present a dismal picture across the education hierarchy,” he says. According to him, a majority of government or aided schools in India have serious issues of resources, systems and quality outcomes.
“Many sprouting private schools are undistinguishable from teaching shops. Research at universities is suffering and academic output is mediocre by most standards. We are fast becoming indiscreet consumers of educational labels in pursuit of the promise of prosperity, but in a globalised world, much of what we peddle is considered sub-standard. We need a total overhaul of approach and direction,” he says.

Prakash’s tech-based education initiative is currently associated with the country’s largest K12 content library. It works in this project with over 20,000 modules of rich 3D multimedia educational content and has reached out to over 6 million students across 12,000 private schools and 17.5 million students across 35,000 government schools.

Driving Book Publishing
Promoter and senior director of the country’s largest academic publishing house MBD Group, Monica Malhotra Kandhari, says absence of standardised curriculum and uniform syllabus are some of the key challenges in Indian education.

Founded by first generation entrepreneur Ashok Kumar Malhotra in 1956, the MBD Group is currently the only publishing house that publishes books for all classes across all subjects and educational boards in India. MBD, which prints a humongous five lakh books a day, publishes in several local and international languages.

Monica — also the driving force behind MBD Alchemie, an e-learning company that focuses on interactive e-learning platform aimed to provide affordable mass education to every learner through standardised content — has led the company’s successful project of implementing Ecademy Solution (digital classrooms) in 1,500 plus schools in India.

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-12-2015)

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