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When the school comes home

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, writes on online schooling and the Hybrid School, a virtually-real format of primary education

Shivaji Dasgupta

The opera bell rings regularly at 9 am in my living room, the fat lady sings only around lunchtime. As the scholarly five-year-old dashes daringly to face the camera, the progenitors are geared to face the music. Both the enquiring teacher and the inquisitive student seek an amiable mediator, skills certified by the United Nations. Courtesy the uncourteous virus, the school has come home to stay, and we have nowhere to hide.

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But before indulging the flirtatious imagination, let me make a saccharine confession. The educators are performing splendidly, combating this bizarre challenge with gusto and composure. It is never easy to lovingly enslave the youthful, especially as a 2-d image and not a 3-d personality — that too in the epicentre of indulgence, the residence. Eye contact, that traditional instrument of accession, is increasingly succumbing to ‘bai’ contact — the employed caregiver sneakily doubling as the attendee parent, nabbed by surveillance camera.

The children are both bemused and excited, as the online class is a contradiction in routine. Screen time that much-aspired luxury is suddenly abundant, albeit not for ‘Horrid Henry’ but surely to see familiar accomplices. From a boot-camp-like 6 am, wakeup time is now deferred by two hours, that late-night Lego parley not damaging morning attentiveness. As per indigenous excesses, the student has a support team, elders empowering understanding of math while handing over the Tropicana perishable.

The power distance with teachers is relishing an amenable equilibrium, intense bouts of concentration interspersed with flamboyant trips to the playroom. Real-life connectivity with friends will increasingly be missed though, as the confinement must sadly extend.

As a keen but insufficient intermediary, I do feel like a surrendered POW, Geneva Convention out of print. The corporate machismo is suspended, no control over content or reaction, each party protected by rotes of tradition and affection. A sentiment similar to riding a turboprop during torrential turbulence, reason insists that things are under control, while intuition suggests unfathomable chaos. Sotto voice attempts to assist comprehension merit severe censure from the madam as the father becomes a fallen hero for pleading eyes. That this is not a question of ice-cream but instead an answer for arithmetic is resistible logic, in this era of service-oriented parenting.

But then this piece is about business and I must swiftly revert to the envisioned core, transgression not cool. There are indeed newer models of statutory education that are both exciting, growable and profitable. Which will stem from many emerging realities, including the asset-light culture of modern enterprise, the campus centricity of education a badge of honour but an infringing investment. If we were to isolate the key sources of value for students (in primary), presentation of content and interaction with peers and tutors will rank foremost but whether they occur in an integrated branded space or as a disruptive collage of experiences demands deliberation. But before delving further, time to note a critical socio-cultural shift that online schooling is harvesting.

For any child, the teacher and the parent (sometimes grandparent) are the two unwavering symbols of constructive influence— equally potent but deliberately divergent, like judiciary and parliament. Each supplements the deeds of the other in a recurring relay race — seeding the foundations of integrity, education and manners. Only now, an outcome of corona, are the two spontaneously collaborating in a real-time space, parents simultaneously aiding the teachings of the virtual classroom. In my early assessment this is a glorious development, the unplanned and underrated synergies actually enhancing the quality of learning. The tripartite classroom surprisingly managing to converge skills, expectations and outcomes in a cut-paste but effective template.

So, tickled by suitable awakenings, let me present to you the Hybrid School, a virtually-real format of primary education. Physical classes will be held twice a week not on a dedicated campus, but in outsourced venues like clubs, hotels or recreation areas. These sessions will focus on physical interactions and practical simulations of theoretical expositions, which will be taught in the thrice a week online session. A game-altering twist will be the official involvement of the parent or elder, partnering the professional teacher in imparting lessons. Extensive training sessions will be conducted to energise this teamwork, not just a casual supervisory role being expected.

What makes this model most interesting is economic sustainability, top-class education available to many more at affordable prices. By eliminating the permanent campus, we will reduce fees considerably, the administrative office can thrive at a co-working space. Technically we can have micro branches across geographies, unifying for the online sessions while meeting physically in smaller groups. Students will meet their friends intensively twice-weekly, ensuring that relationships are stewed while parents can actually make money by being co-educators, either as fee credits or as cash fees. In a nation where teachers are abundant while infrastructure is restricted — this Hybrid School model can empower high-quality scalability at acceptable costs. Due diligence in experiential consistencies will make these full-fledged brands, operating in the franchisee model with technology proprieties.

I must sign off now as it is almost time for class — the school will soon be checking in at home. While dismayed presently by my own inaptitude, the future suddenly seems rather promising. Education has been stymied for too long by legacy barriers and the Hybrid School can well become a significant breakthrough.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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