We believe that the world is transformed one life, one story at a time. That’s why we are sharing stories of social entrepreneurs across the globe who aim to transform their communities through business.
“Provide a strong learning foundation to rural students through innovative learning tools and methodologies at an extremely affordable cost and thus adding value to the Human Resource capital of India.”
Without further ado, enjoy my conversation with Manish Saini, founder of Locus Learning Academy.
Locus Learning Academy
You went from senior positions in the corporate sphere to starting preschools in rural areas – what triggered your passion so strongly that you would make such a drastic life change?
As an adolescent and young adult, I lived in rural India and thus absorbed the values and culture of the rustic countryside. As a hobby, I taught children of my own age and younger in the public schools. Year after year I was shocked at the learning gap that existed in these students compared to their counterparts studying in private schools such as myself – I was lucky my parents had the resources to send me.
The problem was so prevalent that I could not ignore it. Being trained professionally as a problem analyzer (MBA) and a problem solver (Engineer), I started working to find the root cause and a possible solution for this problem. This issue had the potential to destroy India’s demographic advantage. In my spare time while working at Staples, I stumbled upon research done on brain development and the lifelong impact of preschooling.
By the beginning of 2014, I was thoroughly convinced that the preschooling had immense power to deliver striking results in rural India. We then carefully designed a low cost preschool on paper and committed to see it through. We started a pilot project in December 2014 which is now ready to take off as a fully commercial solution.
Are there special logistical challenges you face working in a low-income rural area?
The most important component of creating a low cost preschool in India is renting a 3-4 room building within the village. When we came to Punjab, we expected a lot of support from the non-resident Indians (NRIs).
Unfortunately, we have realized that there is an extremely high amount of “trust deficit” within the Indian community. Schools are not seen as a social venture, but rather a money making machine. Thus finding the right location within a village has been our biggest challenge for the past 2 years.
Although a young enterprise, what transformations are you beginning to see as a result of the opportunity of preschool in rural areas?
Parents can see the visible Impact of high quality education – Typically, families in rural India have only two choices for their children’s education – a free, low-quality, state-sponsored school at the age of 5-6 years, or a costly private school at the age of 3 years. This leaves most children without an option for quality education. We fill that gap, and our students have shown increased language skills, behavior, and manners. Teachers also reportthat parents are seeing positive differences in their children at home.
Parenting – We encourage parent participation and have regular meetings and workshops that incorporate positive parenting skills. This has helped children improve faster than they would have otherwise.
Female Empowerment – Our policy promotes the recruitment of female teachers from the village in which we are operating. This has opened a window of opportunity for educated women like Patwinder Kaur. Upon completion of a Master’s Degree, she married and moved to a village with no opportunity for her to utilize her full potential. Over time, this left her with a lack of self-confidence. When asked to apply to become a teacher, she hesitatingly agreed. However, we have seen her flourish and become the head of our first school.
How do you choose when to open a new preschool, and what is the hiring process like for teachers and staff?
We have a 3-level selection process for the teachers. The first level involves written assessment of language, reasoning and observation skills. Next, selected teachers take a class at an operational school nearly. They are then called in for a final interview. The interview panel submits its report along with the field observation report and we select the best teachers.
What has been the most rewarding part of working with setting children up for success in primary school?
The interaction with parents during our meetings and sessions. Their stories of the changes they have witnessed in their kids, which otherwise would not have been possible, motivate us daily to expand the reach of our project.
How are you uniquely positioned to address this education gap in ways that an outside agency or nonprofit is not?
Our unique position can be looked upon from the current services which are available and how we are uniquely placed compared to them:
- Anganwadis (Government run child care centers) – These are Government Childcare Centers in villages that are free, but don’t provide any education or curriculum. They only receive 1% of the country’s education budget, so we believe early childhood education will remain neglected for a long time still.
- Local Private Schools – On top of the high costs, many students have to travel far to attend these schools. Additionally, the teachers recruited in these local private schools are untrained and the pedagogy is by rote In contrast, Locus opens schools within the villages, eliminating extra transportation costs.. Our teachers are carefully selected, and our curriculum keeps learning by play central.
- NGOs – While an NGO can provide education at a cost lesser than ours, both the sustainability of the NGO and the quality it maintains depend upon the amount of money it is able to raise. Our schools are self-sustainable and can maintain the same quality year after year.
Thank you to Manish for sharing your story! Best of luck in your work in India; we look forward to hearing more stories of your impact on young children!
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