Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Amol. Tell us something about yourself not many people are aware of.
Amol Arora: Most people know that I lead the SHEMROCK & SHEMFORD Group of Schools as the Vice Chairman and Managing Director of the Group, which has matured over the past 25 years to become one of India’s leading education groups with over 525 preschools & senior schools in India, Nepal & Bangladesh.
However, something about me which not many people know is the fact that I am an Engineering Graduate from the Delhi College of Engineering and that before settling down in the career of my choice – Education, I worked in a number of leading IT corporates in India and USA. I worked as a Software Engineer at Tata Consultancy Services for some time. I also worked with Conexant Systems for quite a few months, before finally taking up my dream job.
Also, very few people know that when I was pursuing my MBA from the University of California-Irvine Campus, I was offered a faculty scholarship and so I taught there as a teaching assistant for more than a year.
Vinita Kinra: How did Shemrock and Shemford happen to you?
Amol Arora: SHEMROCK Chain of preschools was founded by my parents and I immediately became a part of the venture. It all started back in the year 1989, when my parents, Dr. D.R. Arora and Dr. Mrs. Bimla Arora, who themselves were very experienced educationists, were looking for a good preschool for my sister, but could not find one. That’s when the idea of opening their own preschool struck their minds and based on the 30 years of their academic experience in India and abroad, they started the very first SHEMROCK in North Delhi.
As time went by, SHEMROCK’s popularity amongst parents went up, and so did the number of its branches. In 1992, after hearing about the advantages of franchising model, we thought it was the right model, and this marked the birth of the SHEMROCK Preschool chain, the first preschool chain to be launched in India.
In time, we were growing rapidly. We were starting to grow outside Delhi-NCR and we used to receive parents’ feedback like, “Why are you sending our children away?” So we realized that we should start our 10+2 schools so as to transfer the same stress-free, fun learning environment of SHEMROCK to senior grades too. Therefore, in the year 2009, along with my wife, Mrs. Meenal Arora, I decided to extend the same vision of making learning enjoyable to K-12 grade students, and we started the Senior School Chain of SHEMROCK – SHEMFORD Futuristic Schools.
Vinita Kinra: As a child, what did you want to grow up to be?
Amol Arora: As a child, I was always fascinated by people who had set up their own venture and wanted to be an entrepreneur when I grew up… and I think I am one of those few lucky people who get to live their childhood dreams.
At the age of 14, when my mother started SHEMROCK, I enjoyed assisting her in all the various aspects of running the school, especially marketing. This passion continued right through my college years and I kept assisting her in the various aspects of running the school. In fact, I did not aim for the IIT Engineering Entrance and only aimed for Delhi University so that I could continue working with SHEMROCK during my engineering studies.
Vinita Kinra: Tell us about your recent education expo experience.
Amol Arora: I enjoy talking at various Education Conferences, Summits & Expos of the country and the globe, sharing my ideas, addressing the challenges faced by young educators and hoping that I can inspire the next generation of education leaders in India and abroad.
I have been sharing my experience at World Education Summit (WES), Bett, One Globe, India Learning Expo, VCCircle, Eduvision, School Leadership Summit, Education eINDIA Education Summit etc. And very recently I was a speaker at Bett Asia, Singapore.
Such forums give me an opportunity to meet entrepreneurs who are starting up in education, and I love hearing their enthusiastic ideas, all while being more than happy to share my thoughts and feedback on the same.
Vinita Kinra: What is your vision for education in India? Are your schools accessible to the masses?
Amol Arora: The future of the industry, as I see it, is that the Indian education sector will experience exponential growth in terms of education providers. In coming years, technology will have an even greater role to play in education, both as a tool for teaching-learning, administration, and the huge amount of data that would be used for personalized learning.
The role of teachers will change from knowledge providers to facilitators. Further, more investments will be seen in the education sector by corporates, start-ups and NGOs such as the Khan Foundation, which will encourage innovative models for education.
Regarding our schools, the quality of our curriculum and our child-friendly environment is the reason why our schools have gained trust of more than 300,000 parents in the past 25 years.
In these past 25 years, not only have our schools grown to over 425 Preschools and 100 K-12 Branches in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, but have also reached every length and breadth of the country from Srinagar in J&K to Erode in Tamil Nadu. Our schools have proved to be the source for providing quality, holistic learning for approximately 40,000 children from Metros cities like Delhi to 3-tier cities like Azamgarh. So Yes, I’d say our schools are very much accessible to the masses.
Vinita Kinra: How competitive is the schooling industry in India?
Amol Arora: The Schooling Industry in India has undergone some major progressions over the past decade. Apart from the formal K-12 (Kindergarten-12th grade) schools and higher education institutions, countless non-formal play schools, coaching institutions, tuition centers, multi-media & ICT (Information Communication Technologies) providers and educational books & aids suppliers have sprouted up. As a result, the education industry is a sector with a large market and no barriers to entry. Hence there are numerous players in this sector, and naturally, there is a lot of competition.
However, the country does not have a homogeneous competitive environment. There are pockets where there is an over-supply of schools and we see schools competing among each other for attracting enrolments. On the other hand, there is a large population that does not have access to quality education and parents are compelled to send them to whatever school is available, or have them travel large distances to nearest quality institutions.
Vinita Kinra: How do your schools distinguish themselves from other premier schools in India?
Amol Arora: At SHEMROCK & SHEMFORD, we have a very simple philosophy that if we make learning enjoyable, learning will happen automatically. So every minute of the school, the time table is planned in a way that children love to come to our schools. And that is what differentiates us from other schools, where the focus is still on traditional teaching methodologies and children are dependent on tuition classes to learn.
Vinita Kinra: Where do you see your chain of schools in the next two decades?
Amol Arora: Our organization has been growing at a rapid pace all across India for the past six years. Our Preschool Chain—SHEMROCK has grown from 90 to over 425 schools, with a growth of around 4.5 times and today we are launching more than 2 SHEMROCK Preschools per week. Simultaneously, SHEMFORD, our K-12 Schools have grown from 2 in 2009 to over 100 schools today. This remarkable growth was noticed by Limca Book and they honoured our schools with the title of “Most Schools Launched in Shortest Time.”
We setup 162 schools last year, and we plan to start 200 more schools this year all across India, Nepal & Bangladesh. Recently, we have also taken some initiatives in African countries, so with this rapid rate and these increasing numbers, we hope to be present in most countries across the world with leadership positions in a majority of developing nations, in the next 2 decades.
Vinita Kinra: Has the school system in India kept pace with the evolving needs of Indians?
Amol Arora: No, the school systems not only in India, but all across the world, do not keep pace with the evolving needs of the people. Hypothetically, you could take teachers from today’s school, in a classroom of a hundred years ago, and they will still be able to teach. Whereas, the world around us has changed so much that there would hardly be any other professional who would be able to work, if they were taken back to that era.
So schools have not kept pace as much as the world around has changed. However, things are evolving and schools are embracing new methodologies to prepare children for the new skill-sets required in the 21st century.
Vinita Kinra: If you could only make one wish, what would it be and why?
Amol Arora: India opened up economic liberalization in 1991 and we have all seen its impact in all sectors. With the opening up of the economy, the whole country changed. The only sector that is stuck in the old socialist mindset is education, and it needs to be freed so that it can attract more and more investments, more players, more competition, and ultimately more choice for students and parents.
So it is my sincere wish that as a country we all be mature about the fact that for-profit models would attract the investments and more research, thereby ensuring a better future for our children. The longer we delay what is inevitable, the more damage we do to future generations.
Vinita Kinra: What is your advice to emerging entrepreneurs?
Amol Arora: My advice to people who are thinking of becoming entrepreneurs is that they must take risks. Entrepreneurship is an exciting journey, with extreme ups and downs, and I am sure that if somebody has found his/her passion, they must pursue their passion. At the end of their life, people will regret the things they didn’t do rather than the ones they did.
I think this famous quote makes perfect sense to all aspiring entrepreneurs: “Entrepreneurship is Living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”—Unknown.
Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.