‘No clear policy for standalone preschools’

Certain parameters that measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the early education imparted in preschools is essential, believes A S Ganesh, Founder & Managing Director, SMARTKiDZ Educare India Pvt Ltd. Excerpts from an interaction with Elets News Network

A S GaneshWhat are the current trends in the preschool business in India?
The Indian preschool market is an under penetrated market. Less than 2 per cent of the children go to preschools in India because the awareness is very low about the importance of preschools. To bring about this awareness, we are conducting Positive Parenting Workshops in all the schools of Smartkidz to make a difference.

What are the different models in preschools? Is any model better over others? Why?
Every model of preschools talks about nurturing children, developing their skills, brain development etc., and the approach to teaching- learning in each model is different. Finally, the whole idea of education is the holistic development of the child and should be child-centric, where hygiene and the safety of the child should be given utmost importance.

What is the size of preschool market in India?
The preschool market size during the year 2010-11 had been Rs. 5,000 crore and is likely to cross Rs. 11,000 crore by the year 2015. This segment is growing at the rate of 35 per cent per annum as against the education sector which is growing at the rate of 15 per cent.

What is the role of franchise in preschool education in India? What are the trends?
The franchise should have a flair for kids, enough time to be focussed towards imparting proper education to the child by following the systems and procedures of the company and adapting himself to the present trends in the education by undergoing trainings from time to time. Importantly, a franchise should not look at it only as an aspect of doing business.

What is your USP?
The curriculum is designed while keeping in mind the syllabus for CBSE, ICSE and SSC. This eases the process of admission of the child for the primary section. The curriculum is followed uniformly in all our schools which are helpful for inter- school transfer across states. Another unique feature in Smartkidz is that we provide value-based education which is part of our curriculum.

In view of increasing need for preschools across the country and classes, do you think it should be regulated?
Yes, it should be regulated. Running a preschool business in India provides the freedom to design and adapt the curriculum and has resulted in a lot of variation in the learning programmes. However, there has been no system designed to measure the quality and output of the education programmes that have been designed for these tiny tots. Similarly, there are no parameters for the admission criteria for these schools. Thus, kids enter the schools from various socioeconomic backgrounds, study in varied education patterns and enter primary schools with a variation in knowledge and understanding. It is therefore essential that there should be certain parameters that measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the early education imparted in preschools. This quality assessment helps safeguard early education and helps in regulating the standards of preschool education. By doing so, the unbranded schools which follow little or no norms will be stopped.

What are the laws regulating preschool business and operations?
Preschools come under informal schooling and are not governed by any regulatory body. There is no clear policy for standalone preschools and differs from state to state.

What is the investment required for starting a preschool? How lucrative is the business in India?
The investment for starting a preschool varies from place to place. It starts from Rs. 7 lakh and goes up to Rs. 15 lakh and sometimes more depending upon the location.

The awareness of preschools is increasing at a very fast pace. In many households both parents go to work and being nuclear families, preschool comes as a boon to such parents. Most of the preschools also provide daycare facility and therefore the demand for preschools is increasing very rapidly. More so, the awareness and importance of preschools is spreading to smaller towns resulting in more preschools cropping up in these towns.

Are franchisees paying higher royalty in preschools and schools compared to those in professional education?
The percentage of royalty varies from company to company and generally ranges from 15 per cent to 20 per cent in the preschool industry. The royalty percentage in the professional education also should be more or less the same.

How many franchisees are planning to continue this business for a long term and what percentage of them are planning to start up their own businesses since they have gained enough expertise and exposure through this opportunity?
In case of Smartkidz, 100 per cent of the franchisees who have completed their term of 5 years have renewed the agreement. However, there are dropouts to the extent of 10 to 15 per cent due to their own reasons.

Is franchise fee higher in preschool compared to other education verticals?
In preschool segment, the franchisee fee varies from Rs. 1.5 lakh to Rs.3.5 lakh. However, in other education verticals, it could be as low as Rs. 0.5 lakh and could go up to Rs. 5 lakh for other education verticals.

Have teaching-learning methods changed in preschools? If so, how?
The face of education has changed dramatically over the past ten years or so. The preschool education is the foundation of children’s education. It is a vital aspect of a child’s learning and development. At this stage, the attitude and aptitude that is developed influences their later life. Early childhood education programme asserted the need of very balanced curriculum at preschool which integrates play and work as a basis of the curriculum structure. Education in preschool has been given a more practical approach which has made learning for the child more interesting. Gone are the days when a preschool was a waiting room for children not yet age eligible for regular school admissions. Now-a-days, parents are more concerned with establishing a comfort level with instructors and care-givers in the preschool, than delving into the intricacies of the teaching methodology followed.

In recent times, newer systems and philosophies like the ‘play way’ method and multiple intelligence mapping have also been incorporated into the curriculum up to 6 years. Preschools in India have also adopted best practices of other teaching philosophies such as Waldrof, the Reggio Emilia etc. With new developments in the field of child psychology and early education, there is bound to be continuous innovation and introduction of new practices in preschool teaching methodologies. The key is maintaining an ideal balance of creativity, flexibility and structure that makes learning joyful for the child.

What are the criteria for selecting teachers in your school?
The appropriate qualification of the teacher in education is to be a graduate with fluency in English. Apart from this, the teacher should also have qualities such as patience, listening skills, pleasing personality, initiative, creative and have an open mind for learning. NTT / ECCE trained teachers are generally preferred. .

Global preschool chains are eyeing India for big opportunities to set up their franchisee and also in teacher’s training. What is the profile of people who are engaged in preschool education and franchisees in India?
The basic profile of most people in the branded preschool industry is qualified preprimary educators or with long experience in the industry, but in unbranded schools, it is not the case. Most of the franchisees in the preschool industry are women entrepreneurs and range from 80 to 95 per cent. In case of Smart – kidz, more than 90 per cent of the franchisees are women entrepreneurs.

Last year, people had moved court to bring preschools under RTE’s ambit. What’s your take?
The RTE act does not apply to standalone preschools. However, it applies to preschools run by schools providing elementary education i.e. from class 1 and above. The RTE Act requires every school imparting elementary education to admit in class 1, a minimum of 25 per cent of the class strength belonging to weaker sections or disadvantaged groups to provide free education to such children

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