Pre-Schools: A Perfect Storm And A Chrysalis Moment

A lot of midnight oil has been burnt on remoulding the curriculum smartly for the digital space - such as focusing on pre-writing exercises for now and waiting for writing to begin on a sunnier day.

The pre-school was born out of penury. History credits the first pre-school to a pastor in Waldersbach, France in 1767, who started one for small children whose parents worked in the fields.  They have come a long way since, becoming almost as essential as a grade school for aspirational parents, accompanied by as many social trappings and in cases, as much jostling for admission. 

This decade has seen tectonic shifts under the terra firma of education. From tech-disruption to questions of relevance, value and employability, multiple issues have plagued higher education. But pre-schools continued to sail in placid waters. With a token nod to technology (see classroom pictures of your child in our app?), they continued to focus on that most mundane of business tasks, revenue and profitability. 

And then came the pandemic. 

The world shifted on its axis. Businesses clamoured to find straws to stay afloat.  For pre-schools, it can seem nothing short of an apocalypse. Think about this, hospitality moved to pickups and deliveries, and entertainment entered your bedroom with the digital screen, commercial airlines went cargo and fashion went protective gear. But how do you deliver a high-touch, multi-sensory, dynamic product like a pre-school to a consumer's home? There is a lot at stake. It is also pertinent to note that this sector predominantly employs women. There are already murmurs of major shifts in the franchisee model. 

Pre-schools themselves have been on their toes. A lot of midnight oil has been burnt on remoulding the curriculum smartly for the digital space- such as focusing on pre-writing exercises for now and waiting for writing to begin on a sunnier day. Solutions such as only making the mother-toddler programme available, to asking a guardian to be present during the class, various formulas are being tried.  And for sure, it has not been easy for teachers to be teaching under the direct scrutiny of parents. This on top of the myriad facilitation issues such as availability of devices at home and poor connectivity. 

But the real question that will arise is of value. Because parents are also struggling with their work-from-home. And now the burden of school work has fallen squarely on their shoulders. From ensuring that the child sits through the class to completion of tasks given by the school.

Having said all this, in reality, this could be the beginning of something exciting. The shift in extraneous circumstances does not mean that the parent has lost her aspiration. It may be the opposite. She is hunting for more products. At a point in time before the pandemic, most industries had the product-channel-price value neatly laid out for the consumers. Now, this equation is up in the air. At least for some time, and pre-schools perhaps longer. 

So we go back to the question. How do you remodel a high-touch product for the internet? In my view, if the attempt is to see how I can take my current curriculum online, that will falter. The right question to ask would be, what is it that the digital medium does best for a child and build around it. Don't design basis a decades-old blueprint. For centuries we walked to the bazaar for last-minute grocery, till Big Basket installed the vending machine in your building. It became possible not because they bring the truck to your house but because they leverage today's technology- from payment solutions to inventory management and deliver value by making the entire process contactless. 

And before we get sceptical, remember the time when everyone said, no one will buy shoes online? The moment is deliciously ripe for innovation, a God-send for the seizer-of-opportune moments. I can't wait to see what unfolds next. One keeps faith in the ingenuity of humanity and most definitely in the enterprising capitalist. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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