‘We want to present a new school built with a student-centric model’

Education has had a huge positive impact in Mukesh Sharma’s life which was otherwise a very humble one in Pilani, Rajasthan. This early and strong association with education nurtured his passion to start a school, Prometheus in Noida, that will enable several children follow their dreams through international standard pedagogies.  Mukesh Sharma, also the founding CEO of Noida based QA InfoTech, a software quality services company, launched the school starting with the 2019 academic session. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, Autar Nehru visited the school and held a freewheeling conversation with Mukesh Sharma. Some excerpts from the discussion between the two:

How did you come up with this idea of starting a school?

I am a first generation entrepreneur and in my work, I have worked with several educational technology(EdTech) companies; all of this experience has given me a rich idea on ed-tech solutions – including platforms, apps and content. Given my close and early association with BITS Pilani, it was always my dream and wish to do something in education and my entrepreneurial gig further facilitated the journey. When you are sitting on the other side as a parent, you see things through a certain prism and have a bunch of complaints about and suggestions and feedback for the educational system.  I chose to cross the line and take up the journey as an educator, that allows me to realize challenges as opportunities.

Why school when you could have very well delved into ed-tech? 

Fair question. The global educational system especially the ones in developing countries like India, is at a crucial cross roads. There is a lot of interest in inquiry based learning, moving away from the conventional rote style of learning. However, not everyone gets a fair chance to try these styles of learning, as they are still an entitlement for a select few that can afford it. I wanted to change this landscape and make inquiry based learning affordable, true to its meaning in implementation through practical and engaging pedagogies and build something from scratch that gives me the leverage to invest in the holistic development of children that join us.

Now this does not take away my connect with ed-tech. Ed-tech will always hold a special place of interest for me, and through QA InfoTech, research and project deliveries in this domain will continue. We have launched a few ed-tech products such as PaperScorer.com and Clickngrade.com. This in fact gives Prometheus a powerful combination where we enable QA InfoTech as our technology partner in further empowering it in its vision to reimagine learning.

Is that why you went for IB accreditation and not CBSE?

We invested heavily in creating a school where children will come out future ready. And it is a very big decision for the parents and children too, to align with a school, as it is an investment of a life. My core goals are very simple and transparent -I want our students to not fear failures; have the courage to try and take new risks and challenges of course in a calculated manner and  follow their passion; technology has revolutionized all industries globally necessitating  life skills  to be honed carefully with good teaching practices, in the educational sector. IB appreciates the uniqueness of every child, prefers collaboration over competition and I feel it lays a strong foundation to enable children build a solid base for the life ahead; it instills a self-driven, critical thinking powered learning experience, which makes the school life memorable, enjoyable, engaging and habituates learning for life.

And you feel our CBSE is nowhere a match for this?

I myself am a product of the CBSE system and am thankful for all the learnings and for who I am today. However, I often think, may be, I could have done more in life if my schooling was more inquiry based and not just exams and marks based.  Not just CBSE, but some of the conventional learning systems continue to place heavy importance on the rote style of academics. While they are also beginning to embrace beyond just the academics, IB is a different mindset altogether. This is a sustainable and scalable mindset that enables shaping students that today’s world needs, rather than grooming them for just the well-known traditional professions.

You are a tech guy and there is ed tech boom around us. How much technology is being consumed by your own school?

I have been in IT world for close to 25 years now and specifically running QA InfoTech for the last 16 years. Talking about technology in education, it is important to ensure children do not become technology dependent – rather they need to leverage technology to aid their learning process. Learning assessments, online library resources for research, reading and reference are all good places to leverage technology for. Operationally as well, Prometheus is technology powered to ensure all our processes are scalable, optimized and secure. Additionally, we are working on a digital repository for every student, so the academic journey is captured and data is secure, giving anytime, anywhere access to the parents, guardians and students, even after they leave school.

What else do you feel is going to be unique at Prometheus ( name kept on an ancient Greek  culture credited with the creation of humanity from clay, and who defies the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity as civilization)  School?

We opened admissions only after most construction was complete; Our infrastructure stands out unique. Apart from the standard facilities, we have a dedicated sports block for varied sporting needs ranging from shooting range, squash, yoga, TT etc. It was also our vision that sports need to be a yearlong habit not hindered by seasonal weather fluctuations; so we built a separate block to accommodate sports, rain or shine. We have designed a Prometheus township in our basement, which is essentially an area for small children where they explore the world much the same way aslet’s say Kidzania. We have horse riding and an open playground as well. In today’s age of COVID-19 where social distancing is much needed, we have ample space to provide this necessity for our students and staff.

On the methodology side, we are ensuring professional development for our faculty as a regular phenomenon to enable them continue to upskill themselves too.

As for our students, we want to encourage them to dream big and help them realize the same. Why shouldn’t our students think about entrepreneurial ideas and start the journey early – we want to provide the right ambience to nurture such ideas to fruition. We also want to inculcate the humanitarian facets in our students – this is an important requirement in today’s otherwise aggressive world situations; inculcating this habit early on, makes it a part of the lifestyle for not just our students but also for the entire Prometheus family. It can even be a small one act of kindness a day, but when done consciously, it will over time become a habitual routine that comes in involuntarily at varied circumstances.

Such is the holistic development we pride on at Prometheus, that we believe is and will be our USP that will withstand the test of time and competition. A school is a very sacred place and everyone is doing their bit towards a greater cause for good – we hope our path will inspire and serve as a role model for others, while we also continue to observe and learn from the industry and society at large.

Tell me more about the school and your capacity planning; will this be first among many more and what about boarding options?

We are expecting 2200 children at the peak and will remain a day scholar school mainly catering to neighborhood localities of Jaypee community and also for children from South and East Delhi, Noida and Greater Noida. It is not fair for children to spend significant commute time on the roads. Of course things are changing with remote learning models, in today’s COVID world. So while we look at remote programs for special lessons that can take in students who are not necessarily on Prometheus’s annual rolls, we limit the geographical proximity for our children to the above locations. At this time, we don’t have plans to become a residential school and whether we will set up more schools is a question we haven’t thought of. We want to make this school a role model in reimagining learning – that is our main focus at this time – the numbers will then inherently follow.

You personally take a lot of interest in school and are involved in its management. How do you balance between being an IT company head and spending time at school? 

I think the school needs me as much as my company, so I have struck a fine balance and schedule meetings accordingly. I also leverage technology to stay on top of things. I am fortunate to have great teams at both places that understand my vision and take them forward for implementation. So, while I am there in both places, I am not in these alone. I have an able squad that supports me. In addition, everyone needs a passion outside of work, to keep them energized. Not everyone is lucky or destined to have their profession and passion merge. I have been very lucky that way where both school and the company are spaces that I am very passionate about. In addition, golf is a big energy boost. Even a quick game every morning on the field, keeps me physically and mentally fit and ready for the long day ahead.

In conclusion I would like to say, every industry, business and household today has to align itself with the new normal imposed by COVID-19, globally. Having the technology leverage from QA InfoTech, and being a school that is new and in its first year of operations, we have the combined advantage to bring in the required changes with agility and flexibility