A deep dive with KVS Seshasai, Chief Executive Officer – Pre-K Division, EuroKids International.
In the lockdown enforced by the second, more severe phase of COVID-19, some of the worst affected are the youngest people in education – around 150 million kids in the pre-school category, for whom engaging, interactive, and a well-planned and strategically created pedagogy, delivered in person and in a group of young learning peers in the class room, by a well trained teacher, are critical. Especially in their current age group, which is when they must reach important development and learning milestones. Considering most of the previous year saw the little ones locked down, and the same scenario virtually confirmed for the near future of at least 3 to 6 months, what can parents do to ensure a continuum of early childhood education for their children?
KVS Seshasai’s career spans more than 20 years across sectors. An alumnus of IIM Bangalore, before joining EuroKids, he has worked with respectable brands like Wipro Infotech, TATA Group’s Trent Ltd, Reliance Brands, and Zee Learn.
Seshasai believes that from the archaic method of mugging to preference to problem-solving and application skills, learning will go through a major overhaul, and he wishes to be a pioneer in this transformation.
We caught up with KVS Seshasai, Chief Executive Officer – Pre-K Division, EuroKids International, to find out more about the crucial importance of continuing early childhood education to avoid learning deficiency amongst kids that could lead to a long-lasting impact on the development and future of children.
Seshasai tells Pavan R Chawla about EuroKids’ determination to press ahead with offering the best of engaging online education to young pre-schoolers across India, and their recent ‘Right Start, Flying Start’ campaign. And much more, including how the ongoing lockdown hit education in India, in spite of which, Euro Kids is confident it will be able to resume in-school schooling within two weeks of it being declared safe for kids. Excerpts:
You are the only Pre-K brand to launch a campaign during the pandemic. What has been the thought behind this?
There is substantial medical research that proves that 90% of brain development occurs in the first six years of a child’s life. According to the UNICEF, school closures can lead to drastically negative outcomes for children.
Closing schools has exposed children to multiple risks. The longer schools are closed, the more children suffer from extensive learning losses with long-term negative impacts, including future income and health.
The UNICEF has also stated that ‘during the critical early years, children need responsive care, adequate nutrition, stimulation and protection to develop their social, emotional and cognitive skills.’
With more than 20 years of experience in early childhood education, we know that educating pre-schoolers requires expertise and experience and can only be done by trained teachers using a scientifically designed curriculum. Also with pre-schools shut, online engagement is the only way the parents can keep their pre-schoolers learning continue uninterrupted during this crucial learning phase.
Our campaign encourages parents to start with EuroKids high quality online program and move to classrooms whenever pre-schools resume physical classes. The three videos which are part of the campaign showcase how our expert teaching techniques ensure that children learn the right way at EuroKids and how this right way of educating children is essential to their getting a flying start in their life.
What has been the impact of the closure of schools since the pandemic hit the country?
In India, we have approximately 150 million children in the 0-5 year age group who have lost out on early childhood care and education due to the pandemic.
Since March 2020, pre-schools, kindergartens and anganwadis have remained shut and learning has been hindered for toddlers.
This has created an immense learning deficit which unless addressed can have a long lasting impact on the development and future of children. Many local pre-schools have shut down across the country due to financial distress.
Only those preschools which have made the transition to digital modes of learning have been able to survive and continue to provide education.
How has EuroKids International fared during the pandemic?
Once the pandemic hit, our primary concern was to ensure the safety of all our students and staff, and we then moved into determining how we could continue the learning path for our students. We then rolled out our online pre-schooling program with the HomeBuddy App in June 2020.
The HomeBuddy app is a treasure trove of engaging content for the parent and the child and also has integrated online classes where our experienced educators can interact and help our pre-schoolers learn.
While we did see an initial drop in enrollments, especially in playgroup and the early reluctance of parents to adopt the online pre-schooling, as the pandemic extended and parents realised that there was no alternative to online pre-schooling, we saw greater and greater adoption of our online preschool program through the HomeBuddy platform. And thus we have been able to actively provide uninterrupted learning to toddlers across the country.
How are the franchisees of EuroKids and Kangaroo Kids faring this year? What has been the impact on them?
The pandemic has hit all segments, and the early childhood education and care segment is no different.
We have a large network of 1,200+ franchisees across the country and we have been actively engaging with them to offer online and offline opportunities for them to connect with parents in and around their centres.
Along with our primary objective of providing uninterrupted learning we are invested in ensuring that this year we thrive rather than survive, and hence we have come up with an aggressive marketing campaign to support them.
Are you offering any online/offline solutions for children while schools remain closed?
With pre-schools having shut down due to the pandemic in March 2020, we realised that a key component of development – learning through constructive engagement –was missing for toddlers.
Hence, through online classes, we began to engage with our toddlers, and this received much appreciation from parents, because they saw their children enjoying their time with teachers and peers even as they were stuck indoors.
But we have also seen some parents opting out of pre-school completely. This is a major concern as scientific research states that 90% of brain development happens between the ages of zero to six for a person. And such a gap does not bode well for a child to achieve his or her developmental milestones.
There has been much talk about online sessions for young children. What are your views on this? Is it important to have online schooling for toddlers who aren’t known to sit still? How do you measure the effectiveness of online learning?
Online sessions cannot fully replicate in-person learning; however, for the next few months at least, online is the only option available to parents if they wish to continue their child’s learning. Children can learn basics of language, numeracy, colours, etc. through story-telling, music, dance and engagement with educators.
We have designed our online sessions to be extremely engaging for children with the use of digital teaching aids, props, audio visuals, rhymes and other tools. We have trained our teachers to be performers in these online classes so that toddlers can enjoy and learn while they enjoy.
Our curriculum has been structured in a way that there is constant feedback going to the parent via both – our HomeBuddy App, and live interactive sessions in which our educators give structured feedback to parents to ensure progress is monitored.
I know you’ve answered this partially already, but can’t toddlers learn at home instead of attending pre-school?
Early childhood education comprises of creating engaging, innovative and important structured learning processes that help a child comprehend and imbibe concepts at a very early age.
Early childhood educators are trained to provide learning through scientifically proven methods and can keep a curious, active child engaged for a certain period of time that possibly a parent might not be able to.
While children learn values, languages and relationships from their families, from educators they can learn skills needed for their growth and their future too.
How do you plan to manage probably another year of lockdown?
With no possibility of physical resumption of preschools in the next three to six months, online pre-schooling is the best option for parents to ensure uninterrupted learning for their children.
We had more than 26,000 children on our HomeBuddy app based online pre-schooling program last year, and more than 80% of the parents said that the online pre-school delivered clear learning outcomes, and more than 75% of these parents were so happy with their experience that they were willing to recommend the HomeBuddy app to their friends and family.
Our HomeBuddy app-based online preschool program offers multiple features like weekly learning plans for students and for parents, recorded lessons, fun zone consisting of interactive games to reinforce learning, worksheets, audio visuals, DIY activities, Eurofit and Yogakids videos, Mindful+ and Euromusic videos, read along stories, takeaways, live classes, parent corner.
How are educational institutions preparing for the resumption of schools? What safety norms are you going to adopt?
We will abide by the Government’s regulations on the required safety norms for each of our centres.
We have already forged partnerships with leading international hygiene, safety and security specialists to implement safety, hygiene initiatives when we reopen.
We have also tied up leading organizations like HiCare and Diversey to ensure our safety and hygiene standards are top notch.
We have detailed resumption guidelines which are benchmarked with best practices from across the world and which are constantly being improved which we have circulated to all our pre-schools.
We will be ready to open our pre-schools safely within 2 weeks of receiving the permission to do so. We are fully committed to providing our children, educators and staff with a safe and secure learning environment.
What are your plans, going ahead? How do you plan to grow in the midst of the pandemic?
For the past 20 years, he EuroKids brand has remained steadfast in its focus to bring the ‘Joy of Learning’ to young children by making learning a fun experience. Our ‘Child First Ideology’ helps us develop a safe, secure, hygienic and clean environment for nurturing young minds.
Today, we are present across 3 countries, 350+ towns and cities, 1,100+ pre-schools and 30 K-12 schools. We have contributed to the growth and development of over 5,00,000 children, and we aim to continue our work to help Reinvent Education in the country.
We plan to grow through the pandemic with the launch of our digital-only franchise model where our partners can get started with online pre-schooling with our HomeBuddy App program and a small investment in franchise fees and teaching aids.
We have the capability to help a franchise partner get started with a digital pre-school by training their teachers and also by driving leads to them enable them to get admissions and grow their franchise.
There have been many reports of independent playschools and franchise centres of pre-school chains having closed down due to the pandemic as well as with landlords refusing to renegotiate rent. How has this impacted pre-school operators?
Pre-school operators have been impacted much due to the lockdown and are working to understand how to weather the storm.
Many pre-school operators have renegotiated rentals with their landlords to weather the tough times. Some other pre-school operators have given up their properties and have moved to online operations only.
One option that has currently worked for us is the HomeBuddy App – our online platform which has helped all our partners, who still continue to educate young minds amidst the pandemic and thrive.
What’s the future of pre-school, keeping the pandemic in mind?
This unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic has changed the entire education segment at every level this year. The adoption of technology in education has been significantly accelerated this year.
During the past year, all pre-school owners and operators have had to go back to their drawing boards to develop innovative ways to ensure uninterrupted learning for toddlers.
Our firm belief is that once the pandemic eases, classroom learning will be back again. The most important priority will remain to offer a safe, hygienic and secure location for children. Pre-schools will have to work harder to bridge the gap in learning in the coming year.