A learner-centric approach

A learner-centric approach

Ranu Kawatra of Pearson Education India, talks about the company’s strategies in India, the Indian market and its growth plans   

POORNIMA KAVLEKAR

Pearson Education India, a part of the U.K.-based Pearson PLC which owns Penguin Books and Financial Times, specialises in the publication of academic and reference books and is a leading publisher in the school segment (K-12). With editorial facilities in New Delhi, Chennai and Chandigarh, this 15-year-old company covers the entire subcontinent and has specific divisions with experienced editorial teams catering to all levels and fields of education. The teams create indigenous publishing programmes to meet local market needs and undertake customised publishing for schools, universities and other institutions. While publishing is its strength, the company is also focusing on the growing education market.

The Indian education sector is going through a very important phase, with foreign universities setting up their campuses in India with a strong emphasis on vocational training. According to a study done by Indian Education Franchising, in the next 10 years, India’s education sector needs an investment worth US $150 billion. Pearson wants to capitalise on this growth phase. And, over the last few years, it has taken both the organic and inorganic route of growing in the Indian education sector.  The company acquired a controlling stake in Tutor Vista and acquired IndiaCan through a joint venture.

Ranu Kawatra, Pearson Education India’s CEO and President, talks to us about its strategies in India, the Indian market and the company’s growth plans.

Pearson PLC has a presence in both media and publishing industries in the global marketplace. In India, for the last three to four years, Pearson PLC has been focusing on the Indian education space. And the two key areas are vocational training and school education space where it has a presence via Educomp Solutions and Tutor Vista, respectively. What is the India strategy going forward? 

Pearson PLC is the largest company in the education sector, globally, and India is a huge opportunity for us. What we require in India is both academic excellence and vocational training. It is nice to have numbers, but you need to have people equipped with the right skill to cater to the demand.  Pearson PLC is well-placed to provide India with a world-class education which the people of India are looking forward to.

While it is important for Pearson PLC to get into India, it is also important for us to take India to them. They (Pearson PLC) have global expertise but there are certain requirements peculiar to India. We (Pearson Education India) need to take that back. It is a two-way process which helps us to decide whether we want to adopt something that is theirs globally, whether we want to adapt to something or whether we want to create something new. The combination of all these things will decide Pearson PLC’s India strategy going forward.

Is Pearson PLC positioning Pearson Education in India as a company in the education service sector that offers K-12 (class I through XII) education, vocational education and test-prep centres?  

It is very easy to compartmentalise us as a company that offers K-12 education, vocational education and test-prep centres. But what we are looking at is very simple. We want to give only what is relevant to the users and their education. We are not going to segregate and say that we will be offering services for K-12, graduation, post graduation or vocational training.  There is a need which arises in every segment which offers us an opportunity which we can cater to.

Having said that, there is tremendous opportunity in the K-12 education segment in India. At any point of time there are about 300 million children in schools, which is a great number. When you get to higher education, the number could vary between 25 million to 30 million children. What we would like to do is to make sure that education gets to be relevant to this audience. I believe that there is a huge divide between what is taught in classrooms and what the real world requires. You need to bridge the gap and make sure that what you are offering as education is not just knowledge but the application of that knowledge which is required in the outside world.  We are constantly evolving a strategy which will help us to reach this large segment (including 500 million students in the next 10 years for vocational education) and we are in a position to contribute to each one of them.

What is Pearson Education’s USP in the various segments in which it operates?

Irrespective of the segments that we operate in, we have a comprehensive offering. What really guides us is our belief that we need to take India back to Pearson PLC and take the best from what they have to offer and customise it to suit Indian requirements.  And whatever we provide has to be learner and educator centric.  India is a huge market and one needs to recognise the capabilities of the learner and reach out to them accordingly.

What has Pearson Education’s growth strategy been over the last two years? How has the company grown during this period? 

We want to be learner and educator centric. The requirement in the education market is huge and the aspiration of parents is high too. Schools have to upgrade their technology and infrastructure and need to give their students content which is interactive.  We are focusing on tablets and want to make learning interesting and comprehensive.  While the tablets are at the top end, a large majority of the market will continue to read books too.

How is the education sector shaping up in India and where do you see the growth coming from over the next few years? 

The education sector in India is a US $100 billion market and this market is growing at about 10 per cent to 12 per cent.  With the changing aspirations of parents, the quality of education that gets imparted in the school is under a lot of questioning. And this will change soon. There will be a 30 per cent increase in the number of schools for higher education by 2020. While there will be more vocational education requirements in future, one has to be mindful of the fact that the value of education in the eyes of the stakeholder has to be imparted well. There has to be an impact on the employability, relevance of education and the competence of the stakeholder.

Pearson Education has launched a teacher certification programme, which certifies proficiency of teachers in using technology in classrooms. What is the purpose of this launch?  

Teachers need to learn constantly and adapt to the changing needs of learners.  There is a huge requirement of training the pool of teachers that one has. If you train one teacher you will change the lives of hundreds of students. There is also a need to retrain teachers with respect to the pedagogy or commitment.

How has Pearson Education grown over the last five years? What was the revenue of Pearson Education for the fiscal ended March 2012 and how do you expect to close this fiscal? What is your target for the next 3 years? 

We have started to grow well. Pearson Education has been in India for the last 15 years and is into publishing. Now we want to accelerate not just publishing, but also get across other formats as well. We want to access larger verticals across schools, vocational training institutes and so on. While publishing as such is a huge component, education is going to accelerate our growth further. Using technology in publishing will also help us grow by leaps and bounds. Of course, proliferation of technology usage will depend on the proliferation of the devices. But with the tablets coming in with right price points, it will have a good impact on our growth.

What are the future plans for Pearson Education in India? And how do you plan to achieve it?

In each vertical we want to get across into wide comprehensive services. There will be a lot of action in the education world and Pearson PLC will be at the forefront. We are leaders globally and want to be leaders in India as well, not just in terms of revenue, but in terms of thoughts and action as well. This will lead to many innovations and we will explore many areas.