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Schools must focus on marketing


To anyone who visits a school at this time of year and spends a few minutes at the reception, the thought that schools need to market themselves seems laughable! Inside are anxious parents — a smartly-dressed father wiping his worried brow, a mother silently chanting a mantra, both fervently hoping that their child gets Admission.

Surely schools are in a “sellers’ market” …able to choose which kids they want, what price to charge, and what facilities to offer?

Most school managements, however, know that this is far from the truth! Yes, a few schools right now have the luxury of a long waiting-list , but the rest are battling to fill their capacity!

There are three reasons for this new dynamic . Firstly, many new schools are mushrooming in every locality. This is as a result of both the government plans to expand number of schools as well as the accelerating investment from private entrepreneurs who are starting either single schools or chains of schools.

These schools are catering to every price point, from “dollar-matched” international schools to affordable private schools to free government schools. This phenomenon will lead to the need for each school to compete strongly to achieve it’s goals —else it will face progressive decline and the prospect of shutting down.

Secondly, at each price-point , the difference between schools in terms of facilities is going to narrow, whether it is computers or labs. This will result in schools needing to look at other ways to differentiate themselves. at each price point.

Thirdly, parents are going to be increasingly choosy and will have the information to exercise that choice more selectively. School-rating systems are coming quickly and soon we will see performance data of all schools in a neighbourhood being published regularly.

With this kind of power, the pendulum will shift away from schools more to parents who will ask questions and “shop” around much more extensively to decide where they are going to put their children. So how should school managements be proactive in this situation and come out ahead? For a school to “win” the battle of the parents’ minds, the management needs to understand and follow some of the basic principles of marketing.

The first is to understand your consumer … in the case of the school — the parents —so as to accurately decide which segment to focus on. This is critical because if a school wants to be everything to every parent , it will never be able to establish a clear identity. More importantly, resources will get spent in several directions, often in a confused way, leading to nothing more than a parity school-rating.

The second step is to position the school so clearly that the parent knows exactly what this school stands for and why it is different from any other school in the area. Better academic results or school infrastructure will not be enough. The quality of teaching-learning and the student-experience clearly will be an increasingly important area of differentiation.

This will need far more intensive focus on teacher- training , as well as on systems and processes of the school that can give it a distinct edge.

The third step for the school is communicating its distinctive position much more consistently. This is an area where a number of school managements are struggling now. When they look to build their enrolment, they almost blindly start “advertising” in the January-March admissions season, using flyers, hoardings, and other media with very stereotype colourful messages that say nothing new!

The fact is that the most important vehicle for communicating the school’s promise is children’s’ parents, themselves. They are unequivocally the best ambassadors of a school and have a huge say in future admissions. Unfortunately, school Managements don’t engage with parents enough… Parent-Teacher-Associations (PTAs) are even discouraged as a potential nuisance! Schools need to understand how to convert parents to being strong advocates ! They need to believe in the school vision and they need to know how to get that message across to other parents.

The processes are simple and cost-effective , but need be systematised and need unrelenting persistence. Having truly won-over and mobilised the current parents, the next step is to reach out to new prospective parents. Media can play a role, but other ways like holding small information sessions in localities and participating at local fairs would be more productive.

When conducted through the year, not just at the admissions’ seasonthis would work wonders to dramatically improve the schools success-rate! Marketing will increasingly become important for any school to achieve its objectives. Done properly, it will also enrich the school with a much closer connect with its key stakeholders — parents, and lead to a much better experience for its children!

Prakash Nedungadi, The Economic Times, 20 March 2010

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If IAS babus can do it, why not B-school grads?

Edupreneurship, Management Contracts

Kapil Sibal’s brand new proposal of posting business graduates as head masters of rural high schools to run them effectively has evoked curious, guarded and mixed reactions.Considering the pathetic conditions of government high schools in the countryside, some people hope the new idea will click. There is equal scepticism that B- graduates normally lack rural background and may better fit schools in the metros.

“Business graduates cannot comprehend the complex rural problems and stark realities. Schools are not corporate houses to run at the whims and fancies of business graduates. It is an impractical proposition for North Karnataka,’’ remarked Basavaraj Diggavi, who runs a state-of-the-art residential school, including separate swimming pools for boys and girls. He points out that in the rural areas absenteeism and dropouts during harvest season is more but the authorities maintain perfect account of mid-day meal scheme! There is an inherent understanding between the schools and rural folk.

Arun Kumar Oza, who runs a CBSE school, salutes Sibal. He asks if an IAS officer can manage all the affairs of a district, why can’t a B-graduate run a school efficiently? “These days youth from all disciplines such as arts, science and commerce opt for MBA. It will not be difficult for them to administer rural schools.’ he insists.

“If the new initiatives tighten the noose on private institutions, I will be happy,” says Dr P S Verma, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at University of Rajasthan. It will put a check on a number of technical and non-technical colleges who manage to get accreditation through window dressing but actually have neither senior faculty nor adequate infrastructure.

“New measures are welcome but it would be wise to ‘examine’ and learn from past failures, e.g. the Navodaya School experience. Besides, what pains me is gross neglect of rural technology and agriculture sector by Sibal. Agricultural education should be given equal or more weightage at least in rural areas,” he said.

Sudha Acharya, English lecturer in Bhilwara, welcomes reforms but is worried about the implementation. We first need basic infrastructure – library, labs, building, computers and electricity – before experimenting with linking classroom teaching with outside activities, she said.

On the proposed common syllabus for Science and Maths, Bihar School Examination Board Chairman Prof A K P Yadav said students in the State would not feel the diffe rence of uniform curriculum. “In Bihar, the Class XI and XIIth syllabi are already based on NCERT syllabus since 2007. So students from Bihar will benefit as national level competitions like IIT-JEE and CBSE Joint Engineering Entrance Test are based on NCERT syllabus.”

‘B-grads are welcome’

“Administering a village school where the students hail from a different socio-economic background is far more challenging than managing a corporate company. Teaching is not merely delivering academic knowledge to students. A teacher is expected to have thorough understanding of student psychology and should enlighten the students on socio-economic realities like poverty and casteism. MBA graduates from ivory-tower B-schools are sure to fail in village schools,” say Nagendra G K of Mylimane village and Shashi N of Siraguppa, both teachers.

Poornaprajna, SDMC member of Government school, Belur village in Sagar taluk, feels: “The exposure and skills of B-school graduates will benefit rural students. A head master’s job involves multi-tasking, decision making and crises management. Hiring B-school graduates is not a bad idea at all.”

Raising the bar

Hail Kapil Sibal for the slew of innovative ideas to pitchfork the hackneyed Indian education system into a global standard. However, given the Indian context, some of these concepts appear divorced from reality. Specially the proposal to bring B-graduates to head village schools is grandiose and part of a window-dressing exercise that does not take care of the dust and slick just below the window.

“Why will a B-school passout opt for serving a village school when he will have lucrative offers?” wonders Nitin Sarkar, head of Department of Education, Vidyasagar University. “Assuming he does, things will go from bad to worse. For, neither will he have the  required tools which he applied in his learning, nor will the students gell with him.”

In fact, one is tempted to refer to the beautiful poem ‘The Deserted Village’ by Oliver Goldsmith. It would be a colossal waste of talent. While his “words of learned length and thundering sound” would amaze ‘the gazing rustics ranged around’, the latter would still gaze and their wonder would grow as to how “one small head could carry all he knew.”

Inputs: Prasanta Paul in Kolkata, Srinivas Sirnoorkar in Gulbarga, Abha Sharma in Jaipur, Abhay Kumar in Patna, Veerendra P M in Shimoga.

Deccan Herald, 22 Feb 2010


A Dime a Day: The Possibilities and Limits of Private Schooling in Pakistan

Budget Private Schools, Edupreneurship

This World Bank study looks at the private schooling sector in Pakistan, a country that is seriously behind schedule in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Using new data,we document the phenomenal rise of the private sector in Pakistan and show that an increasing segment of children enrolled in private schools are from rural areas and from middle-class and poorer families. The key element in their rise is their low fees– the average fee of a rural private school in Pakistan is less than a dime a day (Rs.6)! ***

Read the full paper

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