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Education Gets Smarter at Global Discovery Academy

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The Stanford School of Education graduate, Vipul Redey is the Chief Product Officer at Global Discovery Academy (GDA). He leads a team of education designers at GDA, a firm that designs, builds and manages affordable quality schools all over India. He previously managed the bulk of Cisco’s USD 225 Million global education in IT training and professional certifications business

Please share the genesis of Global Discovery Academy?
GDA was created by 75+ professionals from around the world with blue chip education and enviable professional track records. They came together with a single point agenda to redefine Indian education. Over five years of ideation, research, data collection, planning and prototyping with the Bachpan Foundation preschool in Surendranagar, Gujarat, and our flawless execution finally resulted in the first GDA school being established at Sevasi in Vadodara, Gujarat. Our team is very creatively fertile and oversaw the genesis of our unique success formula that includes a blend of pedagogy, learning space design and technology.

Where does the GDA stand now? What were the initial hiccups faced while setting up schools and how did you overcome those challenges?
We have seen rapid growth of our footprint all over the country. There are currently seven GDA schools in operation and we have already inked the birth of several more for the next academic year. The initial hiccups were mainly with taking one fantastic school and replicating it in several locations with their own unique regional needs, without losing any of the original GDA DNA that made us successful in the first place. We have been able to perfect this process with several innovative GDA techniques that literally allow us to unpack the entire original GDA product on a new school site under the strictest of supervision and tight quality control.

Schools have changed from what they were. What are the new initiatives you have taken in education and schools?
The entire GDA education hinges around our ‘Roadmap to my Dreams’ philosophy that seeks to ensure that every child plays to his or her strengths throughout their lives. This involves, first of all identifying that child’s strengths, accentuating them through our unique education process and then monitoring the child’s progress. We reject the mass manufacturing model in education that has been pervailing for past decades. We aim to leverage our entire portfolio of tools – technology, pedagogy and learning space design – to provide an opportunity for every child to grow at a pace and in a trajectory that is customized to that child.

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Suggestion for those who are planning to venture into a new educational establishment

The issue with starting a school is not just that it is a lengthy and complicated process, but that the lessons learnt can prove to be very costly and sometimes fatal to the entire enterprise. The cost here is not just financial – You will also be tinkering
with a child’s education, growth and long-term well-being and that is the biggest risk that you take.

I would suggest that you
• Do your homework on the initial plans. While the big picture vision will look rosy and make you feel that all will go well, it’s inevitably the details that make all the difference between a successful school where children bloom and a chaotic mess.
• Pick your allies carefully. There are several people that know what they are doing in education and a whole lot more that are totally clueless charlatans.
• Spend an insane amount of time and energy on execution. This is where it really pays off to have a strong management and teaching team, rock-solid school management systems, and a well-oiled engine for executing. We have seen the best laid-out plans meet their Waterloo at the execution stage, and you don’t
want yours to be one of them.

How many schools are there under the umbrella? How do you operate these schools?
At first, we were sure that we had set ourselves some very ambitious and unrealistic goals on the growth of our school network. However, given the gaping chasm between the demand and supply for quality education in India, we are realising that we’d be barely scratching the surface of the opportunity. We realize this every single day from the enthusiasm that our model elicits from parents, educators and potential school partners. We do not run a chain of coffee shops. This is a network of schools that will fundamentally shape the lives of thousands of children. As such, we are very selective about who we partner with in the building and running of our schools. Besides having the material means to create a successful school, we also thoroughly screen partners for their motivation, intent and resolve to help children succeed.

Starting a school in India is still considered as service to the nation and ‘not for profit’ entity, where making profit is allowed but not distributing that profit.What is your opinion on that?
I am not sure why this is a debate that keeps cropping up in education. Profit is not the nemesis of public service. There are several areas of public good that have been wide open to private enterprise for decades without any major compromise in the quality of the services they provide. The public healthcare system serves only a minority of the Indian population. In safety and security, the private sector is ably bridging the divide between what the Government can provide and what the public needs. How many people have a policeman for a chowkidar?
Like all these areas that are basic necessities to create a stable and thriving society, I believe that the public and private sector can ably co-exist in education too. Each of them has unique strengths that lend them well to a distinct role they need to play.

The entire GDA education hinges around our ‘Roadmap to my Dreams’ philosophy that seeks to ensure that every child plays to his or her strengths throughout their lives.”

How challenging is to find skilled management team especially for the education vertical?
Right since our inception, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of amazing talent from around the globe. We’ve had extremely generous participation from very senior and talented individuals working in the highest echelons of the most recognisable names in the corporate world, from Silicon Valley to Dalal Street. They took their blue chip education from the worlds top Universities – Kellogg, the IITs and IIMs, Stanford – and brought it to bear on the day-to-day management of GDA. This is perhaps our biggest strength – Our ability to attract and engage the best of the best.
My personal experience has been that everyone has a very fundamental relationship with the education vertical, from their personal experience as a consumer – a student. Everyone has a perception of what is not working in the old model of education. However, it takes some very unique types of individuals to fold up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in really doing something about it on a day-to-day basis. We have been fortunate in being a magnet to such talented individuals and this is why I have a very high level of confidence on why GDA will succeed in making a big difference for the better in the lives of the children we serve.

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