Non-teaching staff is a critical component of pre-schools: Pritam Agrawal, founder-director, Hello Kids

Enrolling your kids in a pre-school no longer means picking a good, friendly neighbourhood place which gives your child a bit of a prelude before the actual school. This might have held true some years ago, but we are well past those times with the expanding demand and evolving concept of pre-schools. And with so many pre-schools mushrooming, it is very important for parents to pick the one which adheres to the standards crucial for the overall growth of a child. The same sentiment was reflected by Pritam Agrawal, the founder-director of the pre-school chain Hello Kids in a chat with us on the occasion of being awarded the 100% Verified Staff Award for Hello Kids franchisees Moon and Rainbow by BetterPlace and Early Childhood Association (ECA). Here are some of the insights he gave us about the challenges and responsibilities of the pre-school industry.

Image: Hello Kids’ wall of fame

Safety of kids comes first

Since pre-schools deal with kids of such a tender age, it is obvious their safety and security is the prime concern. Pritam, whose Hello Kids has bagged awards like Fastest Growing Pre-school Chain in India and India Education Excellence Award, told us that they cover safety from every angle possible. For instance, the safety of the premises – which includes making it safe and sound for the child to be on the school premises, and be aware of his surroundings. Secondly, from the management perspective, they put the technology to good use with CCTV cameras, which safeguard everybody’s interest in question. The children are safe, the teachers are alert, the parents are at peace with a proper system in place.

But most importantly, they want to be sure about the background of the people who are handling these children. This is because the children are too young to speak for themselves if something happens. At their age, it is essential that they are surrounded by the right people. So their background verification is something that the pre-school industry cannot do without. This is the reason why Pritam mandated 100% verified staff for all Hello Kids franchisees, so that the school and the parents can be assured about the people around the child.

Training and retention of non-teaching staff a challenge

Talking about the non-teaching, blue-collar staff at pre-school, like drivers or caretakers, Pritam said that they form a highly integral part of their system because kids need them as much as their teachers, if not more. And this is where they face the challenge of training and retention of that segment. Even though the support staff is trained in terms of safety, first-aid, good-touch-bad-touch, the high attrition rate of 40-50% in this sector slows down their efforts. So training as well as retaining of these employees continues to be a challenge for them. In fact, getting teachers is a lot easier for them than the blue-collar staff. They try to cope up with it through some bonus or incentives in a bid to minimise this.

 Focus on practical learning over books

When it comes to teaching kids so young, the books and the traditional methods don’t do the trick. A lot of factors have to be considered before handling these children – their age so tender, their attention span so fragmented, their little understanding of school education. So Hello Kids focuses on learning through interaction and practical experiences rather than relying on the bookish methods. They believe that a child’s own vision of the world teaches him much more than any book or class can.

Technology acts as a two-way interaction medium between the school and the parents – while the parents are kept in the loop for updates, it also helps the school get feedback and inputs from them.

Uniformity in policies will be a welcome move

Talking about another challenge that the industry faces, he said that they struggle to maintain uniformity due to the difference in the centre-state policy teamed with their own. Different states have different guidelines when it comes to pre-schools. And the management has their own set of challenges adhering to them, especially where the pre-school chain is spread over different cities and states, but they look forward to a solution soon.

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