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The case for robust low-cost Education Systems in India

Budget Private Schools, Finances & Budgets

Subhalakshmi Duraiswamy

Associate Director

Livelihoods & Skills

The numbers are everywhere – journal articles on education, seminar presentations on livelihoods, books on economic development and commentaries on social development. They all talk about the 400 million children in India who will be ready to enter school or college in the next decade, the million Indians who are expected to enter the workforce every month, the huge success in enrolling them and the frustrating failures in educating them and lost cause of making them employable.

They also talk about the booming demand for education services and quality in education; the Indian Human Development Survey (2005) reported that about 50% of urban and 20% of rural children were enrolled in private unaided schools; India Ratings expects the education sector in India to grow to USD 110 billion by 2015 and estimated that we grew by 16% last year – that’s more than twice the GDP growth rate and almost as good or better than the rate at which the Retail, Auto, IT and Telecom sectors grew.

What hasn’t been addressed well and fast enough is the need for leveraging the best strategies, technologies, processes and systems that the corporate world has used, to deliver impact in the education sector which has goals that are far steeper than most corporates have faced – especially in the low cost private school sector which is the most in need of a cost-effective scalable model.

An estimated 25 million students are currently enrolled in low cost private schools which employ over 1 million teachers and charge anything from Rs. 250 to 1500 per month.

There is a small breed of social entrepreneurs who have entered the affordable / budget private schools sector  – by setting up branded-school-chains which try and leverage economies of scale and benefits of centralisation (like the Ravindra Bharati School chain which operates close to a 100 schools in Andhra Pradesh), offer school rating systems (Gray Matters Capital), school management systems on the lines of ERP (Digital Campus) and school improvement programs in general.

There are fewer still who have ventured into the low cost and ultra-low-fee school sector.  This includes MA Ideal Schools in Andhra Pradesh (10 schools with 1880 students) and GyanShalain Gujarat (1200 schools with 28000 students) who are among the more established organisations in this sector.

GyanShala has developed a model which relies on para-skilling the teacher’s role (divide it into 3 parts – 1 teacher who interacts with the child on a day-to-day basis, 1 senior teacher who works with a child once per week in more complex processes of problem solving and comprehension and 1 designer who develops the curriculum), investment in teacher training (@ 25% of their salary cost), site selection by identifying spots where children are naturally congregating, review and renewal of the curriculum annually and maximizing time usage to allow for children with chores at home to be able to attend to those without dropping out.

Newer entrants like SEED (Standard of Excellence in Education and Development) Education Corporation (setup in June 2013 and currently operating 2 schools with 1500 students) aim to providean integrated offering of curriculum and technology support, building large neighborhood schools and reducing dependency on teachers overall.

Looking at international examples, Omega Schools in Ghana (38 schools and 20000 students) which use a pay-as-you-learn model where students pay on a daily basis using vouchers which are available in the market and the Bridge International Academies (100 schools and 30000 students) in Kenya using a vertically-integrated academy-in-a-Box model which has re-engineered the lifecycle of education leveraging data, technology and scale, are examples for Indian edupreneurs to draw from.

In summary, there is a lot to be done in the Indian Education sector in general and the Low Cost Private schooling space in particular; the task is as challenging as any other on offer currently – and the potential to contribute to India’s economic and social development in a meaningful way, is bigger than most other options. What remains to be seen is the nature of responses that rise and the scale of impact that they are successful in delivering.

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