Colossal Growth Awaits K-12 Space in India

A K Agarwal, Director, DRS Group, believes that schools must focus on personality development, good academics and exposure to the best in the world in order to deliver quality education. In conversation with Pragya Gupta

People need to change with time or time will change them

Please give us a little background about the school.
Starting this school was my father’s vision. We started this school in 2003. We had thought of starting a normal school, but my family  wanted to make it international because in those days, there was not even a single school in Hyderabad. We thought of starting an  International Baccalaureate (IB) school because there were hardly 4-5 IB schools in the country then. It was a grand success. Finally,  we started Cambridge also in the same campus. And today, we have up till twelfth class and 1,150 students which is the full capacity of  the school.
We focus not just on academics; it is the major core area of any educational institution or school. Our aim is to make it simpler, the way  IB says it should be: practical, and based on projects and research. But it’s becoming common in the country.

What steps are you taking to ensure that your students have proper grooming?
In my opinion, schools can do wonders in the way they mould a child. For example, we feel that a student should know at least three  languages apart from his mother tongue and the local language so that wherever in the world he goes, he should feel like a local person  because he knows the local language. So we have started two more languages in addition to English: French and Spanish. The CBSE or  IB does not say a school should teach these. Our objective is only to add to their communication skills and we don’t teach them reading  or writing in these languages.
We have around 11 sports in the school and to find which of these is the most important in life, we spoke to around 10 people, and their  answer was swimming. So we made it mandatory for each of our students to first learn swimming and only then can they join a second  sport. And today, all the 1,150 students in our school know how to swim.

What steps are you taking to make the parents more involved in the educational process?
We give emphasis on involving parents in the school. Be it the rich or the poor, everyone wants his kids to be the best in the country.  So we been doing a small exercise for the past six years in which our teachers visit the house of each of the 25 students we have in one  class, at least once a year. The reason: we want to keep the teacher and the parents in close conjunction so that they can drive the  student better. If my son is not doing well, I should feel free to talk to his teacher. And if the teacher wants any improvement at home,  he can talk to the mother directly and not wait for PTMs, because they happen once in a quarter or once in two months. Today, our  teachers are good friends with the mothers and jointly work towards the betterment of the students: a small thing but it improves the students a lot.
We do not want to run our school like a school, we want to run in a way so that students learn something from here, build their life here  and remember that they have learnt a lot from here: relationships, bonding, humanity, helping nature, and sensitiveness: things that  are required in every step in life. One who wants to get education can study in a government school or in a five-star school also. One  who has to prosper, will. What is important in life is personal development and give priority to that.

What is your opinion about the role of technology in education?
Technology drives everything today. If we are teaching our students Geography, we cannot take them to the Moon and teach them  about it. But we can show them everything practically with the help of technology. Technology helps students to understand concepts  in a more practically manner. We can’t track or control the institutions manually every day. The system not only drives a company but also helps the students learn more, it may be LCD or an interactive board. Today, every student above ninth has a laptop. From  third class onwards, we’re introducing tablets for students. The idea is as they see more, and thus learn more.

The overuse of technology has been challenged by a lot of people. What is your view on that?
What is already proved in the world is introduced in India after 6-7 years. Those who are opposing today will themselves implement it  after a few years. They’ll be late in the industry but it’ll come. Without technology, we can’t improve. People need to change with time  or time will change them. After five years, all the schools will be using tablets. Everyone wants to cut down the cost of printing books  and this is one of the ways to do it. Moreover, if you are aware of the area where you are working in and the system you are implementing, you won’t have a problem. It is nothing but awareness. Maybe the people who are talking about this have less awareness.

Where do you think the school stands after the many years of its inception?
Achievement is only about satisfaction. We are personally very satisfied after starting the school because it makes us feel that we are  giving something back to the country and its people. Tomorrow when these people become IAS or big businessmen, it would be an  achievement for us.
We’ve also expanded our product into a franchise model. We have started a company called Edify Education Pvt Ltd to give  franchisees in the country. There are three brands we are using in this company: Edify School, a K-12 school; Edify Kids, a pre-school;  and MDN Future School, a low-budget school. All the schools will have the same system, the same quality of education and the same concept which we have implementing in our school in Hyderabad. The difference is only in the fees and facilities. The aim is  personality development, good academics and exposure to the world.
Today, we have 12 operating Edify Schools and 175 pre-schools. We have signed another 20 K-12 and another 25 pre-schools. There is  a big market and we are growing very fast. In the next five years, we will have around 100 K-12 schools and 200 pre-schools in the  country.

Do you have any plans to expand it to the higher education segment?
No. Many people are foraying into the higher education sector already. In Hyderabad, for example, at least 50 percent of the seats in  colleges are vacant. In India, what is required is K-12 education. We have lesser K-12 schools in the country when compared to their demand, and more engineering or MBBS colleges. And this school is a bigger project than any engineering college because an engineering college can only teach 350-400 students whereas a school can teach a minimum of 1,200. Each of the schools that we are  starting will target 1,640 students.
According to a survey by the Education Department, we need around 8,000 schools every year. And we are hardly opening 200. So  for the next five years, we only want to focus on K-12.

Is it difficult to control the quality in franchise model?
Yes, it is difficult, but if they are investing `15-20 cores in education, they’re obviously equally concerned and focused. In pre-schools, it’s a small project of `10 lakh and they don’t bother if something happens. But in K-12, if anything happens, the whole brand  gets spoilt. And we have appointed an MNC to check the quality of every school every year. They give feedback to every school which  helps us in maintaining the quality. As of now, we’re very happy with the performance of the schools.

What is the criterion if someone  is interested in taking a franchise? 
In K-12, minimum five acres of land, an investment of Rs 15 crore approximately in a span of 4-5 years, one family member or  promoter for a span of at least five years in the school, the reason why they want to start the school and that’s the most important  criterion. People shouldn’t start a school just because they have the money. We also look if the area in which the school is being started  will attract enough demand.

What is your vision for education 2020? 
In addition to new schools and pre-schools, we also plan to start an MBA and a law college and make it one of the best in the country,  along with five training schools for teachers. We are also starting one teachers’ training college in Hyderabad this year where we will  have a diploma course for them, and definitely plan to start five in India by 2020. Apart from this, we also plan to start at least 10  libraries in all the big cities of the country by 2020. The objective: people will become more knowledgeable and their communication  skills and thought process will improve.

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