“It’s high quality for low prices.” That’s what Manish Agrawal thought in 2009 when he founded his first school called ‘Takshashila Gurukulam’ near New Delhi, India (click here for more info). Already the first day, the number of parents enrolling their kids exceeded all expectations being more than twice the amount Manish Agrawal was awaiting. Given this high demand for affordable high-quality education in the National Capital Region, co-founder Melanie Bowen joined the project in 2011. Both having a professional background in business and common experience as consultants with McKinsey, they pushed the idea of Takshashila Schools to a next level: Why not creating a chain of affordable private schools to satisfy the strong need for education on a larger scale? Why not making use of synergies through a dual-lens approach resulting in higher effectiveness and efficiency? Why not combining academic claims with the economic perspective of a social business? As a result, they came up with the Takshashila concept, an innovative idea based on three ambitions.
First, keep kids longer in school – more hours a day, more days a week, more weeks a year. Even as people in India become increasingly aware of the crucial importance of high quality education, the major problem of high dropout rates, however, remains a reality. The number of children dropping out varies from 10 to more than 20 percent for some regions in India – before completing 12th grade it can even rise up to 80-90 percent. It is part of the corporate philosophy that keeping children in an academic context as long as possible lowers the risk of dropping out significantly. Therefore, Takshashila students have shorter holiday breaks and lessons are scheduled also on Saturdays and during summer. Education as a ‘long-term investment’ is explained as well to the parents to counteract social pressures. Some families demand immediate observable progress in school. As a consequence of this impatience, some kids are pulled out by their parents. Nevertheless, 80 percent of the students are 1st or 2nd generation learners; Takshashila’s target group covers the range from the ‘top of the bottom’ to the ‘bottom of the middle’ of the pyramid.
Secondly, they focus on sustainable and successful teaching. Teachers are selected following a strict mixing strategy: more experienced teachers from other parts of the country are mixed with people coming directly from the local community. Both groups benefit from combined training, mentorhip and supervision and are encouraged to become a part of the local community. Takshashila Schools understand themselves as members of the community rather than as externally imposed entities. Consequently, the organization offers a transparent à-la-carte pricing model enabling the parents to choose the desired courses and activities for their children. Recent tests proved this manner of teaching to be very successful showing that Takshashila students performed above national average in important disciplines like Maths and English (grades 4,6 and 8).
Third, the founders concentrate on driving down capital expenditure to make schools more affordable and efficient. Everyday school life – as the core business – is run exclusively by a non-profit society. In addition, Takshashila offers additional programs that are operated by a social business. Such include summer schools, extended day programs and residential programs. This allows for efficiency improvements: For Instance, physical space used by the schools’ buildings and properties are reduced to a rational minimum, a school’s bus system is carefully adapted for the students’ timetables to avoid frictions. Additionally, residential programs providing supplementary help for enrolled children allow for a 24/7 usage of all properties. Again, efficiency and a students’ personal learning progress at Takshashila go hand in hand – each student benefits from being part of a school that has so many options to help children catch up and exceed expectations. Thus, all steps combined lead to a remarkable reduction of capital expenditure. In the long run, this may help to keep academic quality up and tuition fees low.
Having opened their first school 2 1/2 years ago, the growth of Takshashila now depends on investors valuing both financial returns and the return on local communities. In its third year, already 600 kids in India’s national capital region chose Takshashila Schools to design their personal futures. Manish Agrawal’s and Melanie Bowen’s plans and dreams are ambitious: Within three years they would like to build three more schools, with the potential to accommodate 10.000 children and offering a complete academic calendar from pre-elementary school up to 12th grade. Ambitions, a working pilot and a great team: a promising combination for innovating India’s educational sector at the base of the pyramid.