“Our Assessment System Needs To Change”
Amreesh Chandra, Group President, GEMS Education India talks to Brij Pahwa about the status quo of education system in India, the modus operandi for brand building and the need for government to create public school brands.
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You have been with GEMS for some time now and you are its India group president, how did you build the brand considering competition was humongous in India?
I have been associated with GEMS in the office of the group president for nearly about 18 months now but I have been associated with Varkey family for quite some time. I have known of the GEMS family, passion of the chairman and what he wants to do with education not only in India but worldwide. We came in India with an extremely good combination of an up-market, mid-market public school coming down to the lines of affordable schools. So just to mention, GEMS is probably the only company and you talked about competition, which does not just cater to the public schools as we know of them, but also a very strong family of hundred and forty-four affordable schools across 12 states of India. And that is why we are not in the league of competition with other public schools, but we have a format that looks into mid-market schools, mass-market schools, premium-schools, super-premium schools, affordable schools. We are now working with the government for transformation of public schools.
What are GEMS’ expansion plans in India?
We have looked in great detail in Indian education system and we have realized that affordable education is something that needs to be addressed in a big way. There are lots of public schools coming up but that is a segment that really needs to be pushed because India does not live in Hyderabads and Kolkatas, India lives in places like Gonda and Brijpur etc. Therefore we have made a detailed penetration plan on how to set up schools right up to the village level. This year we are looking to add hundred schools more to our affordable segment and making it a family of two hundred schools. We are also trying to work with state governments for public-private partnership and transformation of public schools.
You are also a leading Indian educationist. Do you see Indian boards being able to compete with advanced foreign curriculums?
The Indian school education system has always been a very robust education system. We have always addressed international challenges and that is why we have had so many students going for undergraduate studies to Australia, US, Britain and so many other countries. The aspect with the changing times is that our education curriculum does not need to change but our assessments need to be changed. The aspects of long term conversation of who has come first and who has come second must change. And this change can only be brought by the central government and it needs to be adapted to the teaching and the schooling fraternity across India.
The state of public schools in India managed by the government is in shambles. Do you think it is the right time that the government needs to create public school education brands?
In India there are two kinds of government schools, the first kind is the more urban based government schools where you have the Kendriya Vidyalayas, those which are still aspired by the parent community however majority of government schools lie in states where conditions are not that good.
There is also a problem of ghost teachers across India because the government salaries are high and there is something called ghost absenteeism of teachers which is also very high. Having said that, every state delivers in different ways. The biggest problem of this school education is in U.P. probably. The way to address this is to allow a public-private partnership to come about.
There are Adarsh Vidyalayas, which is a brand set up by the government. They have a playfield, they have a building, they have toilets, they have qualified teachers, but how many of those do we have? So there is a brand set up, but I think there has to be a stake-holding between the public and the private sector and GEMS is very eagerly looking forward to align on this.
GEMS is a school brand. But in India we have seen school-brands going up a notch higher and unleashing themselves into the higher education system. Are there any plans for that?
Well if you ask the chairman, he will say that we have not done that, but for India we are open and I would resonate that. My dream is to be able to come up with an affordable university concept in India. I belong to a small town and I strongly believe that India lives in larger numbers in smaller places, what is it that we can do to make higher education more affordable and have affordable universities which needs a lot of regulatory approvals from the government and this is what I would like to address.
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