Bridging the great divide in education

Many stand by the notion that education is the only companion that can see a person through a crisis. From poverty to healthcare and even a more transparent government, an educated citizenry can make all the difference. But, in India, education in divided, and affluence allows an unfair advantage. Perhaps that is why the effort Secunderabad-based K12 Techno Services (K12) to reform India’s education system seems a tad optimistic. However, if it does succeed education will no longer remain a privilege that few enjoy.

First steps

At the moment, K12 is in its nascent stages. While officially, it was established this year, the foundation has been one that has taken years in the making. The idea and inspiration came from M. Venkata Narayana, the founder and chief-executive of K12. With 25 years of teaching experience under his belt, he saw the true potential of affordable, quality education and the impact it had on students and the community at large. The goal, therefore, to ensure that all the educational services provided were of the highest quality. Education management as it were, was the task being undertaken by Narayana and his team and the school system in Andhra Pradesh was where it all began. As M. S. C. Srikanth, director, K12 puts it, “In Andhra Pradesh, seven or eight organisations run schools all over the state. It made more sense to get involved in the management of these schools rather than directly establish a new chain of schools. This way the company could help more.”

Schooling the difference

School is more than heavy knapsacks filled with books, classes, special classes and a noisy lunch-break. The experience of learning is one that is all encompassing and that is what K 12 works towards communicating. For a plethora of reasons that include population explosion and a reluctance to change, education has become a compromised affair at best. Overcrowded classes, a poor student to teacher ratio, lack of all-round activities and archaic syllabi have certainly come in the way of the nation’s growth.

K12’s agenda is simple and straightforward, to bring a positive change in every aspect of a student’s life. It seeks to achieve this by providing services that cover the length and breadth of a school student’s requirements. From books, curriculum development, teacher training, evaluations, information technology solutions, transport to even event management, K12 is changing a student’s perception of school being dreary. Themotives, while profitable, also ensure that the teachers and principals of a school can truly focus on what they must, the young minds sent to them for enrichment.

Today, K12 caters to the educational needs of about 1 ½ lakh students primarily belonging to the chain of Gowtham Model Schools in Andhra Pradesh. The turning point for K12 was tapping the state’s vast middle class who have a true appreciation for good education. As Srikanth puts it, “85 to 90 per cent of students fall under the upper middle class and middle class segments, and that is a large number of Andhra Pradesh’s 3.3 crore students. They key is to provide good affordable education to this segment.” Their goal is lofty and their start very promising.

Fund-amental search

Funding was a challenge at the forefront for this company’s dreams and search paid off, literally. Srikanth asserts that acquiring funding was difficult and a process that they had to indulge in for over a year. A proper model for running and managing schools was etched out and this helped the cause as it received funding worth U.S. $ 15 million from venture capital firms, Sequoia Capital and Song Investments.

Snap Shot

K12
Founder: Mr. M.Venkata Narayana
Year Founded: 2010
Location: Secunderabad Andhra Pradesh
Company Size: More than 130 employees
USP: Actively involved in education management with a vast array of services that will benefit student population, nation wide
Investors: U.S. $ 15 million from Sequoia Capital and Song Advisors

Currently, K12 directs 80 per cent of its resources to about 60 schools run by 15 different trusts under the Gowtham Model School in Andhra Pradesh. The remainder goes towards benefiting other miscellaneous institutions that include junior colleges.

Thinking profits

The directors at K12 believe in keeping the process dynamic, to help identify and address speed bumps in the process. As Srikanth says, the biggest challenge is finding quality teachers. And the second biggest challenge is effective teacher training. He strongly feels that overcoming this will enable K12 to deliver on all fronts. At the end of the day, the delivery of quality content is an integral part of what the company is all about.

Another factor for consideration for the K12 board has been profitability. While the services on offer is a certain boost and benefit to India’s educational structure, the company needs to widen reach to create scale. “K12 is in the process of forging more alliances in the future. Based on a conservative estimate of over Rs. 100 crore billing revenue in year one, we are going to see considerable growth in the coming years based on a range of services offered through a wide network..”

K12 has in place, plans to spread their wings to other states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Chattisgarh. But, the task is uphill as ever, with the divide in education between rich and poor running deep. And while the middle class will benefit the most from such endeavours, K12 and other such companies will have to provide evidence beyond doubt that they can actually make a real difference. Much like a school student progressing to the next grade, K12’s progress will be subject to a series of tests. For the sake of Indian education, let us hope the company scores high.