Vandana Gandhi, Founder and CEO of British Orchard Nursery – the UAE’s largest nursery chain, in an interview with Dr Ravi Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, Digital Learning magazine, talks about what it took to make the Nursery what it is today, and more
What is the concept behind British Orchard Nursery?
It started a decade ago. My father supported me to conceptualise this whole system. I was the manager in a multinational bank at that time, but I was interested in education space. We have worked on the brand from the scratch. We had a British management team and followed the curriculum from the UK. We strictly follow the guidelines of quality.
“We are the fi rst company in the schooling sector, led and managed by an all-women workforce. We have been awarded by the European Foundation for Quality, and by Dubai and Abu Dhabi Government”
The government here is supportive to women and in making the life and environment conducive for working women. We are the fi rst company in the schooling sector, led and managed by an all-women workforce. We have been awarded by the European Foundation for Quality and by Dubai and Abu Dhabi Government.
You have several branches across the UAE. Are there any particular guidelines they have to follow?
We follow the government guidelines. These branches are like a corporate franchise, as they have their own infrastructure. We just support them with the curriculum and teachers. It is like a partnership in which we have to work with them and look after the needs of the children.
They also support in our CSR and Emiratisation policy, i.e. to support the country. Our nursery follows strong CSR policies. We support the local communities in many ways. This way we help Arabic children. Even Arabic children learn the high quality international British curriculum in close proximity of their working mothers.
Any mother is the toughest customer, more so for a pre-school, because in the high school, mothers drop their children and go. However, in the preschool, mothers come to drop and pick up their children. There is a high level of interaction with customers, thus a lot of transparency and communication is required. Therefore, it is very important that we have strict policies and great communication tools.
How do you ensure that these branches follow the guidelines?
This is through standardisation of policies and guidelines that we have and through the systems in place, whether it is a manual documentation system across all the branches to support each other or standardised curriculum across everywhere. All the branches across follow the three-year rolling plan, developed by us after years of research. These are individualised to a child’s learning through various inputs and assessments.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai branches follow the same weekly planning, so there is no room for deviation. Although teachers come from different parts of the world, there is consistency and structure in the entire curriculum. We have Arabic, French and Islamic Studies in the government branches, we teach values and morals and we also have activities like drama and dance — all weaved into the curriculum. We have got curriculum experts, who continuously work to make it better.
To ensure that the weekly plans are effectively followed, we have an assessment system. Every plan is linked to assessment, which the teacher has to make. If a weekly plan is completed, assessment is made and the assessment book fi lled. Mothers and teachers go through it. This way, it is a very robust model of curriculum and assessment linked to each of the topics and each child.
“We got the systems developed from the UK, based on the guidelines for nursery and preschooling followed there. This is the general preference of the UAE mothers, because when their children go to higher schools, they prefer the British national curriculum”
Is this business more of a holy business?
We don’t take it as a monotonous business. It is a child-centric system. Quality and care comes fi rst for us. The government here is great in its support system. I like the systems here, where everything is clear and transparent. There are set of norms and systems for the protection of the child, parents and school. You can easily start nursery schools in the UAE.
In India, you have big names with hundreds of nursery chains, having 50 pre-schools each, unlike Dubai. But we have got the largest chain of nurseries across the UAE, though it is not like India, because India is huge, while Dubai is a small place. British Orchard nursery got awards as we have robust systems developed the and have R&D team in place. We maintain high quality by investing in the education model, resources for the children, health and safety-certifi ed parameters.
What is your take on global practices?
International practices are great. Our team comprises women from different parts of the world. We got the systems developed from the UK, based on the guidelines for nursery and pre-schooling followed there. This is the general preference of the UAE mothers, because when their children go to higher schools, they prefer the British national curriculum. However, our team members in the R&D team comprise people from New Zealand, the US, Europe, Asia, Singapore, etc. We listen to the best practices from these countries. New Zealand has a team hierarchy curriculum, which is very nice and well-researched. We have hired experts from these curriculum, pedagogies and practices and take advice from them and incorporate their suggestions in our curriculum.
How many students are there in all?
Across our 15 branches, we have more than 2,500 students. The number of children keeps increasing as we grow. A nursery in Dubai caters to 100 children; that is the model of a nursery in Dubai.
What are your plans for the next fi ve years?
To grow within the country, both in Middle East and India, we take primary curriculum and follow quality standards. We have got awards at the government as well as national level. We have got one of the most women-friendly employee awards from the Ministry of Economy in Dubai and from Cherie Blair. It was part of the Wil Economic Forum, the leadership forum for women. We are the most womenfriendly employers and our HR policies are conducive for working women. We also want to take the model of “happy employees” and “happy children” to other parts of the world.
In the next fi ve years, we want to grow to higher levels — either to more classrooms in our own nurseries or primary education and even expansion towards Asia, Middle East and other parts of the world.