In India today, just 58 per cent of children complete Primary School. Of those, only 10 per cent go on to study at college. But Bharath is in business to change that.
Like many other sons and daughters from the South Asian state, he was given the opportunity follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the family business. The Maguluri family started a private school in India back in 1984, before Bharath was born, and has since thrived in the education business.
Flash forward to 2013, and Bharath and his father are spearheading the financial and academic management of ten schools in Southern India. The company, K12 Techno Services Pvt. Ltd, based in Hyderabad, is responsible for over 150,000 students in 12 different districts across India.
Bharath knew he wanted to enter the family business and he left his home to study at Ohio State University when he was 17 in 2002, to major in World Economy, Business and Economics. “I had a passion for education and when I came back, when I had got my experience in international markets, we expanded the company rapidly,” he says. Being the son of the Chairman gave Bharath an easy entry point into the family’s education business, where he began at Gowtham Academy, but he worked his way up the rankings.
He insists that, unlike many parents in India, his mother and father didn’t pressure him into joining the company. He was left to find his own way. A year after graduation from US-based Ohio State, he was Head of Business, IT and Transport within his family's emterprise, managing six private schools all on his own. “When I first joined, I was working as an apprentice,” he says.
“So I went across all the departments - the son of the chairman had that freedom - and I learned what was happening in the business and how to understand our customers. After that, I started taking care of some of the schools as Business Head.”
During his time with the company, Bharath designed and implemented a $360,000 classroom digitization project in 80 schools, giving them access to Smart Boards, English Language labs and video conferencing facilities. Bharath also redesigned the transport network for the school, reducing losses by $576,000, to combat the difficulty of travelling to schools in India due to a lack of infrastructure.
The company rebranded, thanks to the help of foreign investors, into K12 Techno Services Pvt. Ltd and by 2010, Bharath was the Business Head and Director, responsible for 7,700 students and 400 staff - all before even beginning his MBA program. “People look at me as a replacement for my father in six or seven years,” he says. “So I have to understand everything about the business, and that is why I took enough time to gather experience. When I thought I had enough experience, I told my father: I’m ready for the job.”
But the company’s success masks a rather gloomier outlook for education in India. The percentage of females attending Secondary School in the country was below 50 per cent between 2007-2011, according to a study by UNICEF. For males, the figure was slightly higher at 59 per cent. The literacy rate for females aged between 15-24 was a startlingly low 74 per cent between 2007-2011, according to the same study. Bharath says that only 250 million of India’s one-billion population are educated at all.
A large number of people in India still live in poverty and the country’s economic progress is slowing down. Since May this year the Indian currency, the rupee, has fallen by 16 per cent in value against the American dollar. India's growth has halved since a peak of 9 per cent just two years ago. Education could be seen as the key to ensuring India returns to the level of economic progress that has recently marked it as a major economic power.
More than a year after Harvard University launched a massive online education initiative with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘edX’, figures show that of the 1.2 million enrolments, India enjoys the second largest chunk behind the US. More than 150,000 Indian students have used the service, prompted by the relative ease of not having to travel vast distances to attend the public and private schools on offer.
Before studying an MBA at EMLYON, Bharath was sure he wanted to take over the educational business from his father. But now, he wants to set up his own online education platform for the next generation of India, and help address some of the many problems associated with the sector. EMLYON completely changed the way Bharath thinks about business. “A lot of people asked me before joining: ‘you have your own business and seven years of experience, why study an MBA?’,” he continued.
“But the way I approach a problem is completely different now. I was not professional before. I would look at how to solve problems only from my experience in the education business. Now, what I think of is how to grow, how to get more people in the business; I am constantly looking at a different angle.”
Education in India is a three-headed beast: there are top-end schools, most likely backed by international investors; “medium schools”; and “low-class schools”, Bharath says. “When you compare the high-end schools to Western schools, they are similar. But the low-class schools are for people with mid-level income or below,” he continues.
“In the countryside in India, it’s very difficult (for children). And even though the Government provides free schools, there aren’t good facilities, or good enough infrastructure. Many people can’t go to private schools because they would have to travel up to a hundred kilometres a day.
“They (parents) are compromising on the quality of education and sending students to Government schools, which are very bad. Every year the Government is planning to close down more schools. In some schools, parents pay a minimum one-hundred rupees, and with that kind of fee, there is not enough money for the school to stay open.”
The solution? Teach children from home. Although Bharath acknowledges that a shortage of power and access to the internet and computers can pose problems in some regions of India, he thinks that his business venture can help bridge the education gap. “As of now, the product is doing well. But there are lots of other issues that affect the business, such as power to support the computers,” he says.
“We have about twenty-three-thousand students (using the service) now. By the end of this year we hope to get ten-thousand. In two years, that could be one-hundred-thousand. We need more funds to develop the software and infrastructure.”
Bharath can’t solve all of India’s educational problems on his own. But he hopes to contribute to the sector and help the many thousands of children who either don’t attend school, or attend schools with an inferior quality of service compared with parents who can afford to send their children to private, international-investor backed institutions.
Had he not decided to study an MBA at EMLYON, Bharath would have gladly followed in his father’s footsteps and taken over the company business. That path is commonplace in India. But the entrepreneurially-focused MBA he studied in France opened his eyes to a new idea. Bharath and, we hope, India, will never look at education in the same way again. Thanks to EMLYON, he is taking a small step to addressing a giant problem.