Education Interview 2016-10-20

I Can Read: Bringing newer concepts and opportunities in Indian education sector

To tap the huge market potential of reading in Indian market and induce learning habits at an early age, international companies like ‘I Can Read’, Singapore, plan to set up and expand their base in India.

I Can Read: Bringing newer concepts and opportunities in Indian education sector

India’s literacy rate has seen significant improvement over the past decade. According to National Youth Readership Survey, three out of four youths in the country are literate, and a quarter of the youth population, more than 83 million, identify themselves as book readers. By 2020, the country’s literacy level is projected to reach 90 per cent.

India is currently the world’s second-most populous country with over 1.28 billion people. And population growth forecasts estimate that India will surpass the most populous country, China, by the end of 2030, with a population of some 1.53 billion.

Whilst reading for pleasure is an important component of the market and the audience for general trade books (fiction, nonfiction and non-educational children’s) looks set to grow, school books account for the bulk of the country’s overall book market. In fact, purchases of K-12 school books are estimated to account for some 71 per cent of the market, with higher education books accounting for an additional 22 per cent. `

A recent study puts India at the top of the heap as far as reading is concerned. The average Indian spends more 10 hours reading books per week, so says a survey that puts India on top in comparison with other countries like China and the US; and the average Brit spends only about five hours reading books.

So how has India skyrocketed into this rare stratosphere? Pure book reading with the printed book in hand is doubtful, but yes, reading has gone up overall. Thanks to smartphones and e-books, more people are reading on-the-go. The visibility and market appeal has gone up. People are making decisions about buying books based on social networking newsfeed and information on micro-blogging sites.

To tap the huge market potential of reading in Indian market and induce learning habits at an early age, international companies like ‘I Can Read’, Singapore, plan to set up and expand their base in India. Expecting to have 200-250 franchisees in the next 5 year term, they have big plans to set up and spread their base in India. In an interview with EducationBiz, Chan Huang Yee, Executive Director, I Can Read, tells us how. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about ‘I Can Read’. What is its USP?

‘I Can Read’ has a 16 year history. Originally created by Australian educator and psychologist based on 15 years of their research, the teaching philosophy of I Can Read is to enable a student to become an independent reader before age 7. We believe that independent reader is an independent learner. This is very important and critical from the parents’ perspective as when they realise that their child who reads well develops natural language acquisition, better grammar and spellings, he/she would naturally become more confident and that is very important if we have pre-school kids. As a parent I gave my children a very strong foundation. I get excited to see my kids pick up any book from the shelf with no fear of reading, in fact they love reading. I see reading as essential life-skill parents should give to their children. It is not only about life-skill but also about literacy.

The USP of ‘I Can Read’ is revealing the joy of reading and equipping children for the rest of their lives.

What led to the inception of ‘I Can Read’?

‘I Can Read’ has been in the market for 16 years. The Australians had a great product which they didn’t develop or expand further. My partners along with me came in and acquired the whole business from the original founders. We added a lot of infrastructure, an entire curriculum development team, put in new content, new learning methodologies and expanded the business regionally. It was nothing magical about it but sheer hard work and planning.

Highlight the challenges faced by the brand. How did ‘I Can Read’ tackle them?

People! It’s difficult to find people with same level of dedication and passion as you because ultimately it’s your own business. We’re very careful with selection of our staff and have high expectations from them as we have of ourselves. It’s not easy for you to find and train the staff with the kind of calibre we want. Our staff start their career with us as teachers and then progress into business. We have a tradition of grooming from within.

Explain the franchising models of ‘I Can Read’.

The traditional model has a unit area franchise and master franchise.

The hybrid model, wherein we own and operate centres ourselves as well as give out for franchise in the markets that are important to us. These markets are in proximity to our head office and we can deploy resources easily. This is important as it helps us in understanding the demographics, the learning, the culture and the objective of parents. It puts us in a unique position where we can react to the market very quickly. In such instances we always create a company headquarter team in every country and not only Singapore. For example, in Southeast Asian markets where we have proximity, where we can respond fast, we always go for our company headquarter.

Then there is chemex franchising model where we waive off franchising model completely and go on with the high royalty fee.

The type of model to be selected depends on the evaluation of our partners.

Tell us about your plans for Indian markets.

We hope to work closely with FranGlobal and Franchise India. We do not know the market very well as of now but obviously did some preliminary research and have some information. I think in India we would want to go with area franchise model first by working with business families and with individuals who are from educational industry. We could go into curriculum licensing too.

What are your views about reading and education industry in India?

I think ‘I Can Read’ is uniquely placed to succeed in a market like India. I haven’t heard about any reading program here. I have seen K-12 schools, speech and drama, pre-schools but no reading school. I think we will succeed with the pedagogy and success we have across English SFS markets and English SFS foreign markets which we are offering in Vietnam, Indonesia etc. We feel that 3-6 pm will be our golden belt for Indian students as they can come to our centre after attending their morning classes.

Where do you see ‘I Can Read’ 5 years from now?

We would have expanded in a fairly large way in India with anywhere in between 200-250 learning centres. With rising middle income population and young parents, the market potential is huge. There is a high demand for English language learning program. India is a very specialised market so we would offer our ESL specialty.

Share with us some of your franchising facts.

We go ahead with a 5 year tenure with our franchisees charging 12 per cent royalty for the first 3 years and 15 per cent thereafter. Franchising fee varies from Rs 1-1.2 crore. The break-even period for investment is 1-1.5 years and payback period is 2-2.5 years. A lot of it is driven by rental value and the number of students too.

Despite the many challenges faced by the reading market in India, the industry is fast expanding, creating jobs and contributing to the education and literacy of the country. More edupreneurs like ‘I Can Read’ should plan and venture into this industry to capture the huge untapped potential present and make big business.

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