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CORE Education and Technologies is bringing global education systems to Indian education

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Education News

May 21, 2013

While Indian students were coming up trumps in tests, excelling in classes, and generally wowing the western world, there was one Indian company trying to make western students in the US and UK better as well by improving their education systems. Sanjeev Mansotra had been working in the family business of mining and iron ore trading since he was 17. It was in 2003 that he got the opportunity to buy out a young software company that was creating software for offshore clients.

It was this company, along with two others a little later, that would go on to become CORE Education & Technologies Ltd-a million-dollar end-to-end education services firm that now operates in 15 countries including the US, UK, India and has recently ventured into the Middle East and Africa.

It provides end-to-end solutions for the education sector which includes teacher training, technology solutions for assessment and examinations. It also provides consultancy on IT requirements for schools, colleges and for quality of education.

Kick-off “We didn’t have a vision or anything at the time [we started]. We did not plan to enter into the education sector either,” he says. That was by chance, as one of the companies Mansotra bought later was based in the US making software for the education sector.

“In the US, we started by helping the government with compliance, which is to say that we had software that could track the utilization of funds allocated to state governments for education. We were measuring the end result in terms of enrollment, dropouts, etc,” he says, adding that this was basically a data management service built for the government.

In the UK, the company’s biggest business is teacher training. “There is a big demand in UK for temporary teachers. We provide training to teachers and provide temporary teachers to schools in case of absenteeism,” Mansotra explains.

Anshul Sonak, President of the company, adds that “teacher absenteeism is looked at very seriously abroad. Supplying alternate teachers is a big business in the UK and we have a tie-up with Oxford University for the same.”

In 2008, an acquisition of the K-12 Division of Princeton Review Inc., a company that is an offshoot of Princeton University, gave CORE its flagship product-of formative assessment for the K-12 segment in the US. Here, students from kindergarten to the 12th grade are assessed via online programs to see which subjects they are weak in and then provide intervention or specialized attention accordingly.

The platform is used by students and teachers but CORE sells the product to governments, both in India and the US, and not directly to schools or colleges.

The desi experience The company entered the Indian market in 2007 with a software project for the Jharkhand government that tracked every child’s enrollment, nearest school, basic data etc. This data was collected on ground by an agency and then made available to the government in the form of a report that could be accessed via CORE’s software platform.

CORE also had its eyes on the government of India’s move to allocate a budget for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) education, which the firm already had experience in handling in the US and UK. “However, the component of services was lower in what the government was looking for in India and there was a higher demand for hardware, which is why we didn’t bid initially,” Mansotra says.

Mansotra’s belief was that the services component would be more in demand soon as providing computers wasn’t going to be enough. Creating a curriculum, managing the training among others was what interested Mansotra more. “But the government wanted to have something they could see, they wanted companies to set up computer labs,” he says. His gamble proved right. The government’s demand for services on ICT education went up and he was in business. CORE now has 12,000 schools in India where it provides ICT education services-providing content, or training teachers among others. The plan is to grow that business to 20,000 schools by the end of the year.

Mansotra was also keen on the government’s introduction of the Model Schools Scheme, wherein it would go the Public-Private-Partnership way for 2,500 public schools in the first phase of the project. Here, the private sector was to provide for infrastructure as well as manage the schools. CORE has bid for 50 schools under the Model Schools Scheme through the Ministry of Human Resource and Development. But this business is yet to take off for the company.

CORE has also moved into the vocational training space in India. “Vocational training had been looked at separately from the formal education space. But there now is a greater demand for integrating employability into the formal education curriculum,” Sonak says.

In the US, CORE has a tie up with the East Valley Institute of Technology for vocational training. The company is trying to replicate the vocational training model followed there to suit India. In India, vocational training programs are provided to rural youth through the Ministry of Labor and Employment.

The government gives out tenders to companies for the programs and CORE has been working on retail, hospitality, IT or ITES sector contracts here.

CORE is also looking at vocational training for students in schools, but Sonak says that is something which has not taken off in India in a big way. Outside of its range of education services, the company gets 23 percent of its revenues from IT services, wherein it makes software for accounting, enterprise resource planning etc. for schools and other educational institutions.

The books One of the challenges for CORE now, Mansotra says, is raising capital. By acquiring a listed company in 2003, CORE came on to the BSE from its inception. The company raised capital through foreign currency convertible bonds in 2006, 2007 and 2010, for a total of $175 million. Mansotra claims that the company has an order book of Rs. 1,500 crore in India alone now. The company’s revenue for the year 2011-2012 stood at over Rs. 923 crore.

One of the advantages Mansotra says he has over competitors is that he has kept away from the capital intensive business of setting up schools. “We are a services company and that has helped us keep our investment in capital low,” he says.

The challenge for the company, Sonak identifies, is working with the Indian government.

“Coordinating with different departments of the government is a big challenge. Also, the emphasis on quality of education is not very high in India. In the US, parents demand higher quality every day. In India, the bottom-up push is not there,” he says.

Narayanan Ramaswamy, Head, Education at KPMG says: “The government is oblivious about what technology can do for education. They released a tablet, had some initiatives in ICT, but mostly these have been disjointed efforts. Unless the government has a clear vision and plan, working with the government for companies like CORE will be a challenge.”

Ramaswamy also says that the opportunity is huge in the space that CORE operates in.

In India, there is a need to create human resource of value which will benefit when better technology is brought into the education sector, he adds. For a company that has made 13 acquisitions so far, Mansotra says that a big strength has been team management.

Another strength Mansotra identifies is that having worked with schools in developed countries as well as in India, they have an advantage going into the Middle East and Africa.

“Associating with state governments in the US provides us a fillip, while the experience of working with challenging circumstances in India give us the ability to work in these economies as well,” he says.

 

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