The Ampersand Group delivers end-to-end solutions through knowledge coupled with state-of-the art technology in areas of education, skilling, and healthcare. Vinesh Menon, CEO - Education, Skilling & Consulting Services, Ampersand Group, spoke to BE’s Aritra Mitra.
Q. Take us through the functioning of your organisation.
A. The group has been successfully running private schools and in recent times, has been associated with the governments of India, Kenya, and Rwanda to transfer its expertise to drive greater efficiencies and outcomes with the state departments of education, skilling, science and technology, and health.
Our capabilities have been tried and tested and are reflected through the Vibgyor group of schools - which today cater to the educational needs of more than 50,000 students across India through its chain of 40 K-12 schools. Our group has also executed multiple projects with the central and state governments and includes operations and management of government schools under a public-private partnership model.
Q. What are the main challenges in the Indian education system? How is your group trying to address them?
A. India is a large and diverse country with more than 300 million students studying in
1.5 million government and private schools across multiple education boards in multiple
languages. With the world becoming closer and with increased depth and access to information and the advent of a new generation of children, there is a dire need to relook at the way education is being delivered. Technology has made positive disruptions in many industries but has only scratched the surface of what it can do for the education sector. Our group has a vision to transform lives globally through knowledge systems driven by innovation. We are committed to contributing to the change needed - by working on the areas like creating a virtual education system accessible to the remotest parts, creating ecosystems to attract and train teachers and driving a strong vocational education and skilling system.
Q. In a country like India with a high unemployment rate, what should students expect from the educational institutions?
A. We are convinced that a significant portion of this problem can be addressed by dealing with the core of the problem i.e. education. It is absolutely essential that every child is able to
absorb a good balance of theoretical and practical knowledge so as to step into the glocally (global + local) evolved world to attain economic independence when he or she becomes
an adult. Our learning systems are designed with this end objective in mind. We have complemented our K12 pedagogy with skilling and vocational education services for meeting
the above objectives. Our skilling ecosystem has delivery capabilities to reach out to our beneficiaries to address their skilling requirements right from traits such as plumbing, healthcare, retail and hospitality all the way up the value chain like IoT, machine learning, digital marketing and cybersecurity.
Q. Do you think that if the government and the private organisations work together, the Indian education scenario will improve greatly?
A. The private players are continuously innovating and working with academia and using technology to bring in delivery capabilities to address beneficiaries. In India, a bulk majority of students is still from the government schools which indicates to the scale, reach and economic strength of the public education system. However, private players have better execution capabilities apart from enhanced innovative capabilities. The combination of the two will make a huge difference to the overall output and will enhance learning outcomes across the country.
Q. What is the future in the Indian education sector?
A. A new hope is given by the recent amendments made by the government. The incorporation of the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to the Samagraha Shiksha Abhiyan is an important step. The emphasis on the two “Ts”- teacher and technology and other thoughts that have been articulated in the draft versions of the soon to be introduced ‘National Education Policy’ is also very encouraging. We are starting to see many young entrepreneurs in the field of education either starting new schools or building ed-tech companies. This is also a welcome development.
Q. What are your views on the protests on fee hike in educational institutions? Don’t you think that the underprivileged may miss out the opportunity of education due to this high fee structure?
A. My personal view is that the education industry should be treated like any other service industry designed to bring quality and value to the most important resources of the country i.e. children. Investments are essential for technology and innovation. Inflation and escalations in costs are being witnessed by all and the education industry is not insulated from it. A typical school needs to ensure quality delivery across multiple areas and the only form of inflow to address this is fee income. Hence, parents and guardians must realise that an annual increase in fee in proportion with such continuity of services is only normal. The cost of technology must get cheaper and for this, the innovators and R&D hubs should start to widen their networks across India rather than deepening their reach in the urban and tier I cities. Once this happens across all aspects of school services, the cost will be far more affordable for the economically challenged sections. Moreover, if we strike the right chord between private players and the government through PPP models, efficiency will automatically go up and the underprivileged will not need to compromise on the quality of education.
Q. How are the education management companies preparing for online education in Covid-19 and post Covid-19 world? How much is it going to change the education sector?
A. Interestingly, many physical education seminars and conferences that were held pre COVID-19 would always have discussions on technology, online education, human interface v/s long-distance schooling, etc. In reality, however, few institutions would follow up to integrate technology into mainstream education delivery. Ironically, now the topic of online education and technology has gained relevance is seen not as a supplementary support but as a key necessity for education delivery. The Ampersand group has been investing time, resources and capital in building a robust platform to drive scale across the education ecosystem in both government and non-government domains. Not only have we have successfully deployed it in the Vibgyor group of schools where students are continuing to learn during the lockdown, but we have also implemented some of the platforms to inculcate teacher training and continuous professional development in government schools in a few states.
The education sector was at an inflection point for a while now. While smart classes have been replacing blackboards, numerous interventions to drive better outcomes through the use of technology were missing. The COVID aftermath is likely to bring in a positive change in this area and soon one will witness a much better alignment and integration between academia and edutech platforms in areas of academic delivery, assessments, continuous professional development for teachers, school management systems. A silent revolution will also commence ensuring that children in the remotest parts of India get access to quality education through the use of technology.