Amreesh Andrew Chandra, within less than a year after joining as Group President, GEMS Education, India, pulled off the first ever Festival of Education with Rajasthan government in Jaipur (on Aug 5-6) with great success. Chandra, coming from the UP’s Gorakhpur and an economics masters from Christ Church College, Kanpur and having worked with several governments internationally as a consultant is also incidentally the only educationist to have received the honor of Freeman of the City of London. His family owns St Paul’s school in Gorakhpur. Autar Nehru spoke with Amreesh Chandra soon after the conclusion of ‘festival of education’. Excerpts:
Tell us, how was the ‘Festival of Education’ conceived and How did the Govt of Rajasthan come round the idea and accepted it?
Essentially this conversation began with the honourable chief minister (Vasundhra Raje) with a couple things on my mind when I was working on a concept of festival of education in India and the idea was to promote India as a knowledge hub in the world. And promote within India a state which has some basic criteria, showed aggressive and positive movement towards improving education in which Rajasthan by far was a leader. No other state is close to it when it comes to transformation of public schools, the kind of attention paid to schools, their results, attendance and enrolment , push for parent teacher meetings, efficiency of teachers, etc. So that is how our relationship began with the government of Rajasthan and meantime GEMS happened (joined GEMS Education as group president in India) with me. Mr Sunny Varkay is is dear friend I know for a very very long time, we agreed to work together. That was how it was a good culmination of three different people passionate about education working towards building India as the next knowledge hub coming together.
So, I told madam (CM) I have this chapter of festival which I have been working on. She said she will be happy to partner with you but she wanted the ‘festival of education’ a Rajasthan government property and not that she hosts the first and then next time it will go to some other state/city. Because she also wanted to use the fest of education to showcase land and people of Rajasthan that is why there was beautiful baton designed which was passed on to mayor of next host city, Udaipur. She made it a property like Jaipur lit fest except that unlike lit fest which doesn’t travel across Rajasthan, she wanted this education fest to travel so that along with education she would highlight the regional development, regional flavour and culture of those places to global people coming there. Therefore e this partnership evolved and there is no tenure to it. Year after year travel across the only criteria to chose a city is it should have basic infra to showcase and host the fest on the a large scale and at least have a neighbouring city that can offer hotel and other infrastructure.
And GEMS will remain a partner. If yes, for how many years?
Yes, GEMs will be a partner in subsequent festivals editions and we have an MoU on that. There is no tenure to this collaboration.
This collaboration goes beyond this festival?
Apart from this, we are a couple of more things. Festival of Education is one. Second we said, we’ll adopt your government schools and better manage them or work towards that end. So, we said, we’ll adopt 50 schools. We have also adopted five DIETs (district institute of education and training) for improving them. They said, the central library of Jaipur, which is in bad shape needs support. So, we will revamp this central library of Jaipur both with intellectual investment and physical investment so that it becomes a place of learning and teaching. And fourth, we shall take part and participate in platforms that create, enhance and innovate teaching/learning and therefore this fest
What kind of investment is going into this?
In terms of fest and library revamping, all carry financial commitment from us but at the same time government is an equal partner. In so far as the adopting schools or DIETS is concerned, it is a CSR activity for us and only difference here is that while it is a practice to involve corporate under CSR, in this case we are a corporate working in education.
All along there is an investment perspective to bring in and invest in all categories of schools not only senior schools, but mass market schools, affordable schools. We (GEMS education) are aggressively investing across India and have an agenda to invest in all categories in India and Rajasthan is no exception.
Are you talking to other state governments as well on similar lines as in Rajasthan?
We are approaching and in talks with various governments but everywhere the connotation is different and it not same but essence of relationship is that can we as the world’s as a largest private education company partner with your state in enhancing teacher training, enhancing and transforming public schools, create an environment that at large helps India itself to become as the next intellectual capital of the world and basically encourages the innovation and in teaching/learning. Whether this fits into government own agenda, that is secondary but yes we are in conversation with various governments and I am not naming them but you will soon hear announcements coming.
And you are confining yourself to school education segment only?
Do you feel this is the kind of rather elusive PPP model that this country has been looking for years now?
I think so. What is ‘festival of education’? it is a PPP. Most states are open to PPP model and it is not PPP in one perspective but in many perspectives. My feeling is people are open to it in teacher training, ICT, technology, in creation of incubation centres, enhancing teaching and school management across India and that is a positive change in mindset.
Coming to GEMS Education plans for India. What is the roadmap that might have drawn for growth in India?
Our road map is very clear now. In India we have two kind of school, GEMS schools and other is dream schools, The way India is doing now, the mantra for India is affordable India, quality affordable India. Be it housing, debts financing or education. In doing so, we have been market a market leader and fortunately our chairman Sunny Varkay has the insight to look into what India has to offer in the coming 5-10 years. We have 150 affordable schools running across India in 12 states. Now our idea is while so many people are coming up with premium schools, we want to cater to the affordable school segment. We want to go develop a model that only becomes operational and provides quality in tier two or C cities but at tehsil and village level. That is what our road map and that is what India needs. That is a huge deficiency of schools to the tune of 40,000k schools and which will take good number of years to make couple and require a couple of billion dollars spent.
It will be all kind, it will be acquisition, venture partners, adopting schools, working with govt schools, sharing infra, etc. The segment of growth for GEMS in India is going to be 70 percent in affordable schooling and 30 percent in premium mid market segment.
A personal question, what made you to choose GEMS Education?
There are couple of reason. I know the chairman and group for good last 10 years. The passion of the man in building and creating enterprise only on school education and becoming biggest in the world is exemplary and second to none in world. I found in him the commitment, passion and canvas that matches the canvas what I wanted to work in the field of education in India. I come from a small town of Uttar Pradesh, Gorakhpur. My parents have been teachers as you know and we run our own schools there (St Paul’s School). And having been a teacher myself for five years, coming from small town, seen these big canvases, working with governments internationally, I have that kind of expertise to work and create a team for Mr Varkay in India that fulfils a vision that is very close to both of our hearts .