Woman entrepreneur’s vision to revolutionize education system in India
Meenal Arora is the Director of SHEMROCK & SHEMFORD Group, which manages 525+ schools in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. She has not only contributed her efforts to developing educational systems, but also invests a great deal of her time, energy and resources into designing intensive training programmes for franchisees, school-heads & teachers.
Ms. Arora has also co-authored several preschool books and has been consistently providing parenting articles to some of the leading newspapers and magazines. Acknowledging her contributions, she has received several prestigious awards including the most recent 100 Women Achievers Award, conferred upon her by Honourable President of India.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Meenal. When and how did your fascination with leadership in education begin?
Meenal Arora: Since the very beginning I have seen my father, uncle and cousins, who are all entrepreneurs. Just like them, I always wondered about doing something of my own. When I got married, my husband was managing 20 SHEMROCK branches as part of the family venture at that time. He offered me to join him. For somebody who had fancied working in a big corporate house, in big buildings with fancy offices and hundreds & thousands of people working, the offer to run a preschool didn’t seem a very exciting one. However, he talked me into giving it a try, so I decided to work in SHEMROCK for 3 months for a feeler and today, it has been more than 13 years & I am still here. I believe that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Vinita Kinra: As a girl, did you feel the education system was responding to the needs and career goals of students?
Meenal Arora: I feel that the education system at that time focussed on imparting high quality education and extending discipline to all the children with ample attention & care in the primary grades. But the middle school grades or senior grades somewhat lacked that personal touch & attention from the teachers as they emphasised on completing the syllabus.
Also, children used to work on a tight schedule, with a lot of homework form every subject teacher & extracurricular activities and with no carefree time for watching TV or even sleeping, let alone exploring their potential.
I feel that the education system at the time primarily missed out to differentiate the learning pace of each child. Also, learning was not application-based and children were never explained why they needed to study a particular concept and where they were to apply it in real life.
Vinita Kinra: What are the distinguishing features of SHEMFORD and SHEMROCK education models?
Meenal Arora: At SHEMROCK & SHEMFORD, our education model is based on our in-house, innovative and progressive Curriculum & System – ShemEduMAXTM and some of its most distinguishing features are that it makes the learning of core subjects very interesting, motivating & engaging for our children.
It also results in the all-round development of every student by filling in the missing gaps in the current school system by including Life Skill-based learning programmes like English Conversation development Programme, Health & Wellness Morning Programme, Personality Enhancement Module, Thinking Skills Development Module, etc.
Further, we have specially designed and developed this curriculum to fit the requirements, interest, abilities and learning styles of the child, rather than vice versa. Moreover, it is mapped to the themes, concepts and values where children are not only groomed to be successful but also become good human beings.
Vinita Kinra: You are an entrepreneur, recognized for your efforts in promoting evolving education methodologies. How has this journey been and what new roads need to be charted?
Meenal Arora: Though it’s been a challenging journey, but yes, my experience as an entrepreneur and rather, an edu-preneur gives very much satisfaction. With lakhs and lakhs of children, whom I have seen graduate from our schools, I get a feeling of accomplishment of what I always dreamt to achieve, but the journey doesn’t end here. There is still a long way to go and every day comes with its own challenges and success. I hope in some small way I am able to improve schooling in this country and brighten the future of more and more. I have never walked the treaded path but have made my own path and that is something I wish to keep doing.
Meenal Arora: Well, I guess I cannot say it is entirely instinctive. I think it’s a combination of both. I believe that parenting is something very personal. There is actually no right or wrong in parenting. You just need to understand your child’s psychology, temperament, nature and requirements, keeping your mind open towards how other parents are raising their children beautifully!
And if there is little help available in the form of tips, articles or books, why not read, explore and learn? Just like when someone wants to hone one’s professional skills, they should observe and find out as much as is available for parenting and then they can pick up the best that suits in their scenario. So, I think if I can help some parents in experiencing this wonderful process, with whatever I have learnt and observed in my experience as a parent, why not!
Vinita Kinra: What is your opinion about boarding schools in India?
Meenal Arora: Generally, parents use ‘boarding schools’ to intimidate their kids when they stop listening, as a punishment. But in reality, boarding school is a place where a child receives early training for his life & the real world and becomes self-dependent, self-confident & self-assured.
I think that boarding schools in India need to realize that when a child spends 24 hours with the school, his behaviour, his personality is completely shaped by the teachers, house masters or other school people around him and the role of his parents gets minimized.
Therefore, the sense of responsibility and accountability of a boarding school is manifold in comparison to a regular day school. So they should take time to develop the quality & policies of the school, the curriculum & the routine for the child because every small decision on their part will have a long-term impact on the child’s future.
Vinita Kinra: Contemporary careers like social media marketing are competing with mainstream ones like medicine and engineering. Is the education industry in India keeping pace with this transition?
Meenal Arora: I feel that today, several new streams like actuarial science, financial management, robotics, aeronautics, social media management, etc. are gaining popularity as career options in India but the sad fact is that these options are discussed only once or twice in the career counselling sessions at the senior secondary schools.
There is a dearth of proper career guidance and skill training for such fields in senior schools, as a result of which majority of Indian schools lack the focus to create employable pass-outs. All they focus on is to help students go through a curriculum & pass an exam and after that, the child is on his own.
I believe there is a need to change this focus and to mould the child according to the field of his interest and train him according to the required skill-set, from the early years.
Vinita Kinra: What is the biggest challenge in your career?
Meenal Arora: Being a woman entrepreneur is a big challenge in itself, because you are always aiming to achieve that perfect balance between work and family life. If you fail, society doesn’t say she doesn’t have what it takes; it says women don’t have what it takes. If you succeed, however, the society puts pressure on you to make you feel guilty, as if success has come by overlooking family.
But I have been very lucky to be born in a family of entrepreneurs and then got married into one. My parents ensured I got the best education and understood my passion. Then after marriage, my husband and in-laws always encouraged the budding entrepreneur in me, appreciated my thoughts and helped me fight my challenges. I have managed to reach where I am today, because of the support from my family and my husband – who happens to be my biggest strength.
Vinita Kinra: How would you envision education in India in the next half century?
Meenal Arora: The future of education in India, as I see it, is that it will have an exponential growth in terms of the education providers, and as the numbers of education providers grow, only and only the ones with quality offerings will be able survive. Rest of them will either be acquired by larger brands or shut down.
In the coming years, technology will have an even greater role to play in education, both as a tool for teaching-learning & school administration and as a means to manage the huge amount of data that would be used for personalised learning.
The role of teachers will change from knowledge providers to facilitators. Furthermore, investments will be seen in the education sector by the corporates, start-ups and NGOs such as the Khan Foundation, which will encourage innovative models for education.
Vinita Kinra: What are your future projects?
Meenal Arora: Going into the future, we hope to continue & further increase our growth rate in the country and other South Asian countries. We have already entered Nepal & Bangladesh and soon, we hope to establish ourselves in South-East Asia and in the Gulf, too.
And as we grow & go global, we will continue to research, innovate & improvise our current system of education. Technology is also going to play a bigger role and we hope that we continue to be known for the integration of technology in our schools.
Also, we will continue to invest our time, energy & other resources into designing & developing intensive training programmes for our teachers to help them implement our child-friendly systems effectively and comprehensive Synergy programmes for our parents to involve them into their child’s learning at school.
About the interviewer:
Vinita Kinra, featured among 150 most remarkable Canadians, 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.