EDUCATION: Shantanu Prakash, CMD Educomp, on private players in the education sector
Shantanu Prakash, CMD of Educomp Solutions Limited, founded the company in 1994. It is the only K to 12 company listed on the bourses with the aim to transform the teaching-learning process through the use of technology and best practices. In an interview with The Hindu, Mr Prakash outlines the role his company is poised to play in the future. Excerpts:
Why are private players like Educomp entering the education sector?
The Indian education delivery system (which has witnessed little change/capacity and quality enhancement) has over the years been stressed to the point of collapse as newer generations of parents demand better education opportunities for their children. A manifestation of this is the growing preference for private schools across all strata of society. While some part of this can be attributed to rising aspirations, it can also be seen as a search for an alternative to what are perceived to be less than satisfactory government institutions. Liberalisation and the onset of the IT revolution in the Nineties, both challenged old ways of learning and teaching. Educomp anticipated the surge in the demand for quality education in the country. All these enabling conditions have led to a prolific rise in private education players.
Educomp is one of the pioneers of the ‘Smartclass' in schools, though this is an expensive proposition. How is Educomp working to bring this concept close to lakhs of children of government schools and rural India who cannot afford such an expensive?
Educomp works closely with state governments (over 15 till date) to bring technology aided learning to underprivileged children in government schools across urban, semi-urban and rural India. We have developed high quality digital content in over 10 local languages to benefit students at all levels. When we launched Smartclass, we were clear in our mind that though it is an expensive technology, we must take it beyond the few elite schools that had the capacity to adopt it. Our pioneering model, wherein we made the initial investment and the school paid over the long term has today ensured that small private schools in remote areas too are adopting Smartclass. It is today present in over 10,000 schools and majority of those in towns/rural areas that many city dwellers may have never heard of! While Smartclass is currently being adopted in private schools, we are constantly looking to innovate on the model to make it more and more accessible and affordable for schools and are also now working on pilot projects for introducing Smartclass in government schools.
Around 15 years ago, you started Educomp Solutions with a vision. Have you been successful in accomplishing that vision?
Educomp was founded with a vision ‘to apply innovative solutions to solve critical problems relating to Quality of Education and Access to Education for all'. While we have made huge strides and today reach over 29000 schools and 19 million learners across the globe with a wide portfolio of innovative products and services to enhance teaching-learning, there are many milestones that await us….In a country that makes up a mere 17 per cent of the global population and yet has 50 per cent of the world's illiterates, there is no room for complacency at any level.
What are the latest trends in the education sector?
Some of the most fundamental shift in pedagogy methodologies has been seen in the last two decades. Education has moved away from the ‘one solution fits all' philosophy. The focus is towards providing individual attention to students based on their dispositions, their cognitive capabilities and inclinations... Millennium Learning System developed by Educomp is based on the above principles and a chain of schools called The Millennium Schools are now coming up across India.
There has also been a fundamental shift from traditional pedagogical approaches which view the teacher as the holder of wisdom and knowledge. In the current approach the teacher is seen as a facilitator – the role essentially encompasses introducing of subjects of discussions, encouraging sharing of perspectives and integrate the students shared experiences into the learning process. Educomp, being the largest teachers training company is focusing on updating educators with best practices.
IT-enabled education has also led to tectonic shifts in the overall quality of educational content and its delivery. Technology has opened up many avenues of education or learning for children. Considering the fact that the moment children step out of their classrooms, they are exposed to a diverse set of technology based information sources such as television, Internet, mobile phones, etc makes the classroom a redundant and uninteresting source of acquiring knowledge. In an age where children are exposed to instant learning through various other information sources classrooms have to evolve from a traditional chalk and board uninteresting classroom to a technology classroom which engages the students in a much better manner. This is exactly where Educomp Smartclass comes in.
How do you perceive the growth of education sector in the next five years?
The education market potential can be gauged from the fact that India has over 550 million people below the age of 25 years. According to census figures, over 32 per cent of its 1.1 billion population is between the age group 0-14 years. This means that the number of people needing primary and secondary education alone exceeds the entire population of the USA. These students will be seeking higher education in India over the next decade, a clear indication of market potential.
India's education sector is currently an estimated US$ 80 billion market, with a potential 16 per cent five-year CAGR. The willingness to adopt technology/new age learning tools by private and public education sector will see an exponential growth over the next many years.
There will be a lot of emphasis on skills development which is critical to put the knowledge that one has gained during his or her education into practical use. Incorporating a skills development based approach would enable students to sharpen their skills to be able to apply their knowledge in a proper manner.
How do you see the role of public-private partnership in education vis-a-vis standalone efforts by the government?
The demand for education services is growing at a phenomenal rate and it is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to keep up with the pace of requirements of the market… Understandably, it is a problem that cannot be left alone for the government to resolve and that is the reason government has opted for PPP to achieve the twin objectives of providing ‘access' and ‘quality' in education.
What are the key challenges of the education sector?
Indian education sector has the unique distinction of producing some of the brightest brains in the world on one hand while over 100 million children are still out of school. Some of our educational institutes like IIMs and IITs rank among the best in the world…But the flip side is that the sector is also plagued with issues of access and quality- problems range from low enrolments across the education eco-system, shortage of schools and colleges, issues of quality (outdated curriculum and teaching methodologies), shortage of trained teachers, out-of-sync education delivery models, restrictive and non-transparent regulatory regime… Also the sector has been slow in adopting new technologies/learning aids.