EDU – Schooled into a brand – T.C.A. SRINIVASA-RAGHAVAN – The Hindu BL

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They convince anxious parents their brat will grow into a “caring, sensitive, aware individual”. Literacy is a by-product. Parents then agree to pay higher fees.

With the admissions season upon us, it is interesting to see why some schools are in greater demand than others. That is, considering all of them offer the same thing, how do schools brand themselves? Economic theory says that those who add the highest value get the highest rewards. By that token school teachers (which is what a school is) should get paid more than college teachers – and primary school teachers should get paid more than high school teachers.

This is because a primary school teacher turns an illiterate child into a literate one. This is the highest value that can be added to a human.Indeed, it is like turning pigs into sausages – or going from zero to one. Everything after that is small beer in comparison.Yet, this does not happen. In fact, it is the other way around. School teachers get paid a pittance compared to all other professions.I have asked scores of economists why this should be so. Not one has been able to provide a satisfactory answer.

An explanation

Since economists have failed, I have come with an explanation. It is a little complicated so be patient.The explanation is this: Although the value added by a primary school teacher to a five-year-old is very high, the value of a five-year-old is zero economically, unless you can get him into a carpet factory or a fireworks factory.Hence the low rewards to primary school teachers. They produce nothing useful.It’s a bit like a raw potato costing less than a boiled one (middle school) and a fried one (high school). College education is like adding gobi-matar to it and a PhD is like adding a ghee ka tadka.

I believe this is what provides the opportunity for schools. They can create their school brand by claiming that their 10-year-old is better than any other 10-year-old.Indeed, without intending to some schools have done precisely this. They pay their primary school teachers almost five times more than unbranded schools, mostly government ones.

The trick lies in convincing doting parents that the school teaches the 3Rs only incidentally. The usual pitch is that it helps the brat grow into a “caring, sensitive, aware individual” which is a load of rubbish, of course. Literacy is sold as a free by-product.And dumb parents agree to pay higher fees. It is product differentiation of the toothpaste variety and it works.

Branded schools

School after successful school, where success is measured by the smirk on the face of successful parents, has pulled off this marketing trick.My own two boys went to a school that started off in a tent and claimed to provide education “with a difference”. Once the brand was established, it slowly turned itself into a perfectly normal school. By then my chaps had left.The school I went to was much-despised because it was new, very Gandhian and didn’t have a St. before its name. Worse, it was Hindi-medium till Class Nine.

In the 1970s, under a new Principal it quietly became a much sought-after upper middle class, ethnic chic school. You know? Handloom saris, khadi kurtas, and big bindis but Hindi only till Class Six. Oh, well done!

The odd thing about branded schools is that its alumni never boast about it, at least in the same way they let drop the names of their college or University.Nor do branded Indian schools – except the old Eton-Harrow-modelled residential ones – inspire much brand loyalty.

I wonder why.

(T. C. A. Srinivasa-Raghavan is Senior Associate Editor, Business Line.)

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