My job (CEO of a Education company) requires me to visit schools, meet Educators (read Teachers), Principals (read Operation Manager), School Coordinator (read Delivery Manager) and Trustees (read Investor). My job is to make them aware about the research which IIT Bombay has put in to develop a computer science curriculum and also tell them how InOpen (a IIT Bombay incubated (SINE) company) implements it in schools. I must have visited atleast some 400 schools over last 2.5 years and additionally have spoken or conducted workshop for another 1500 schools. This post is to make people understand some of the current practices in Education sector. Don't miss the conversation between a school coordinator and me. I have used a very plain simple and flawed english for this post :-)
Whenever I visit a school, I feel a hell lot complex for myself. Mostly because of the multi tasking abilities which schools have and I don't. Schools in my opinion are the most complex organisation and Principal arguably 'the' best Operations Manager. A Principal manages right from (in order) school admission (1st), staff room politics, taking daily rounds of classrooms, meeting angry parents, to a students puking in bus, firefighting with teachers over filling empty lectures, attending marketeers and sales people from Edu Companies, scolding a student for misbehaving to understanding the academic progress of her schools (last but you cant blame the poor principal for it). I can say with conviction that a principal of a typical school doesn't find time to spend more than 20% of her time for academics. Not to forget the time required for Annual day, sports day, Atleast 10 different contests and few others.
The Trustees (Founders of School) look for qualities like understanding nature (yes man), multi tasking abilities, the number of admissions she (as common gender) in a school Principal. A school Principal career is directly proportional to how big (in number of students or fees) she has handled.
I like schools who have a CEO (appreciable). Atleast they have realized the need to separate daily operations from Academics But Mostly Nowadays Schools have somebody called 'Coordinator' (aka management director, resource coordinator, Executive Director or Executive Trustee. I sometimes get amazed with new designations being manufactured by Schools.
The job description can be summarized in 3 points
The School Coordinators has common personalities. They are extremely close to the founders of School. They all carry 2-3 cell phones which rings non stop. They have 2 secretaries (3-4 in busy season), they can easily switch between emotions in fraction second (like shouting on a student, to saying 'yes sir' to their bosses, to sound logical, bargain with a vendor...). They consider themselves brilliant and most knowledgeable individuals. They have an aura of superiority and deal with subordination issues very strongly. Strangely they are pseudo experts of all subjects, curriculum, training, Education Technology, school boards and on top of that they are brilliant negotiators with principals (full on respect plus make her to do all what he think is correct).
I meet a lot of these School coordinators. Here is an uncensored (but shamefull) conversation with a school coordinator.
R : Hello Sir
SC : Hello Sir, Hello Sir, How are you. Tell me Sir
R : How are things Sir ?
SC: I am fine. Lot of things going on. Pre Board Exams
R: I can understand. Sir, my team told me that you have some price issues with our curriculum. The Content head and the principal have approved it.
SC: It is 4 times the current cost ( I was like, what ?). The fees was decided in Oct (for next year April). We only charge a school fees of Rs 30000 per year (yes only). Justifying 500 rupees will be difficult as it is an additional cost. Also it is late
R : But, Sir How is it 4 times. (did all possible Permutations and Combinations in my head). Late ? When is the new batch starting ? I thought April 2012, no ? If April then it is more than enough for us. We will only require 3 weeks for delivery.
SC: Currently the Computer Science Books cost 130-150 rupees (3 dollars). And You are charging 600.
R (interrupting) : Yes Sir, but this is the entire package (Customized Course Content, Teacher Training, 4-6 handholding visits with reports and Assessment with reports for every children) and not just School Books
SC: Yes, Yes I understand, but it is still 4 times the cost no ? See I anyways have teachers, How can any training from IIT Bombay help ? Since my teachers are paid, they can also do the assessment, and they can also prepare reports.
R : I appreciate what you said and highlight your concerns (obviously abusing him in my head). However I would like to tell you some benefits. Sir, We at IIT Bombay gives a lot of importance to one school and treat every school differently from the rest. We will create customized modules for your schools after a deep understanding your school . We have already completed the first part i.e Education Officer visit. Plus the training will be at IIT Bombay and we would include everything in it, including the fooding and lodging. An extensive Teacher's Guide is given to every teacher. Apart from that we will do handholding visits for which we will come 4-6 times in a year. This will be very helpful in capacity building for your teachers. One of the highlights i.e Assessment. We will conduct test for your school students which will give you detailed insights about a student and not just overall idea. The price we quoted was of the entire year per student. I think this justifies the cost completely. (expected a strong positive response, may be applause)
SC: Sir, All this is Ok (Dismissed at face) but how will I justify it parents (loud) and my management (softly). As I said, I have teacher (fresh college pass out with some computer course, 6 month old, with Rs 10000 salary). I think we should be able to do whatever you just said. I am fine with course content.
R : But your Principal and Content head had approved the content and expressed the desire.
SC : yes, but then they don't have to deal with Parents. How can I justify (like OMG) Rs 300 - 350 extra.
R : But, Sir Your is a school with decent fees (Rs 30000) ? Against 300-400 I think we are able to justify it. Also as you might be aware already 2.5 lakh students are using our products in just 2 years time. There are schools in Dharavi, and Thane with fees less than 2000 rupees and they too have implemented it.
SC : Sir, last time we asked students to give Rs 30 for school diary. Trust me more than 100 parents that came to our office complaining. (Parents in Mumbai ? Are u kidding me..c'mon )
R : I see. But Can you issue a circular which can help Parents. Sir Trust me this will really be a useful thing for the school.
SC: Hmm, But can you give us all these things in Rs 250 ( after a deep thought)
R : Sir, Do you think it is possible ? I am anyways not charging you any kind of premium.
SC: Sir, Circular will be a problem. I don;t want school management to get problems because of this. I am sorry may, be next academic year (2013, what ?). We can then add the same to fees.
R : Ok Sir, Let me do one thing. I will revise the proposal to separate individual components. You then decide if you want to go with some individual components.
SC : Yes, that would be fine. But Tell me one thing. Can we have IIT Bombay branding for our school. We can get into separate financial contract for it. It would be great as admission season is coming !
R : I ll get back to you on this.
SC : Please send me the email. And yes, don't forget about the IIT Bombay thing
R : I ll see. Thank You for your time
I fail to understand how can the School Coordinator take such important academic discussion with so many pre conceive notions. Now assimilate this with almost all schools in India which does it. The problem doesn't stop here but is creating this dangerous trend in Indian Education System. In Education the only companies which are allowed to have profit are the ones who cater to the non formal education (training companies, test prep, diploma courses and tuition business) or support formal education but from outside (Educomp, NIIT, etc). These companies are quick to identify that SC 's are the most important link (decision maker as well as saboteur) in the whole Education business (for schools) and Principal is only the influencer. Now starts the whole process of what I call is the reverse engineering.
Companies decide the price point first, The look (packaging) second, The distribution/implementation and content (or the actual learning) the last.
The important factors for these companies are
This model is quickly adapted by other vendors (or so called Educators) and the reverse engineering ideology gets spread quickly.
It is needless for me to say what all is the once glorified Education eco system of India is quickly catching up with this trend. I once visited a International School. To summarize my meeting the principal 'if you write a thoughtful email it is a very ordinary stuff, but if you can just compose a email in iPAD you are a genius'. I atleast know 75+ international schools (Fees : 2000 $'s to 5000 $'s) who shares the same ideology. For them the selling point is not academics but iPAD's, IMac's, trip to Nasa (for 6 days) and so on. Parents too don't complain as their children are occupied and their egos are massaged in their social circles.
In this entire process, the most neglected item is 'quality content for academics'. Platform (e-learning, Interactive smart boards, tablets) are considered to be the big thing. Again, e-learning or any technological advancement is just an extension to the content. Better letter writing skills leads to writing Good Emails. Its not the other way round. Similarly its the content which matters the most. Then, if you want the content to be presented as Apps (across mobile OS App stores) or as Web based learning it doesn't really matter. Does it sound like rocket science ?
I feel that the whole School system is following something which eventually I feel is a slow death spiral. Slowly, there will be a dearth of quality educational content (as no one would setup a machinery to create excellent content but fail to find a market), cut throat competition among Edu companies will only create problems like payment defaults, litigation and excessive advertisement spends (leading to huge capital expenses. Already there are reports of frauds among education companies. Tax Raids , Bribery Case and general corruption have become very frequent in Indian Education System.
I hope that slowly Schools and Colleges realize the paradigm shift (from Education to School Management) which is causing serious problems. If not thought I am sure will do some serious damages.
P.S : Please ignore the typos. I am publishing this without a revision