This Delhi-based playschool chain is providing quality education to students in Tier II and III cities
Founded in 2004 by Ajay Gupta, Bachpan Play School has been able to carve a niche for itself by providing quality education outside metros in cities like Bareilly, Dehradun, Muzaffarpur, Saharanpur, Bijnor, Bulandshahr, and more.
Ajay Gupta was afflicted with polio when he was six-months-old. Being dependent and constantly needing help to move posed several challenges for him. However, seeing his father and grandfather run businesses ignited a deep sense of curiosity within Ajay to explore entrepreneurship.
After completing his education, he opened computer training centres in Delhi’s Karol Bagh. However, he wanted to do something bigger.
While sending his daughter to playschool, he realised there was a gap in the quality of education provided. That’s when the idea to start a playschool chain struck him. He launchedin February 2004 by investing around Rs 30,000 from his personal savings. Starting with one branch in Delhi, today the school has scaled up to 1,100 franchise branches across India.
According to Ajay, what is unique about Bachpan’s story is the impact it has been able to create by spreading its presence across Tier II and Tier III cities including Agra, Ajmer, Bikaner, Bhopal, Bareilly, Dehradun, Muzaffarpur, Saharanpur, Bijnor, Bulandshahr, and more.
In an interaction with SMBStory, Ajay shares Bachpan’s growth story and how it caters to the Tier II and Tier III markets, the evolution of the education space, and more.
Making an impact in the hinterlands
The education space in India is very crowded with multiple pre-schools (Mother’s Pride, Euro Kids, Kangaroo Kids), schools (Amity, DPS, Apeejay, Kendriya Vidyalaya, DAV), universities (Delhi University, IITs, IIMs, etc), and even new-age edtech companies (BYJU’S, Vedantu, Unacademy) making waves.
However, Ajay points out that when you dig deeper, lack of quality education is a gap that besets India’s hinterland market.
“Education institutes seem crowded in metros, but when you move away from them, the case is different,” says Ajay. Furthermore, Ajay realised that in the smaller cities, many schools were established around 40 years ago, and they lacked quality. He adds that India is so diverse as a country that the needs of people change every 50 km.
Ajay did not set out to penetrate Tier II and Tier III cities exactly. His mission was to make pre-school education more accessible and formalised. He says that in those days pre-school education was not taken seriously.
“I did not want Bachpan Play School to be a place where you send your kid for two months,” he says, adding, “We made clear guidelines for teachers (including their deliverables) and syllabus for the kids monthly and annually.”
Ajay says that “a particular curriculum, design, books, and well-thought-out strategy along with professional training” is what shaped the core of Bachpan Play School chain.
“We rolled out about six books, which included activity and subject-based books,” he says. The fees in smaller cities is about Rs 26,000 annually and goes up to Rs 60,000 for metros and other cities.
In 2009, Ajay also established a school consisting of primary, middle, and high school wings called Academic Heights Public School affiliated by CBSE. Both Bachpan Play School and Academic Heights come under the parent company, SK Educations.
The strategies deployed have also helped in creating a strong balance sheet. SK Educations clocked more than Rs 2 crore in FY07, and nearly reached Rs 30 crore in FY12.
In FY20, the company clocked Rs 73 crore, but the number took a big hit during COVID-19, resulting in the company clocking Rs 20 crore in FY21. SK Educations hopes to get back on track in the coming months.
The rise of ‘phygital’
Over the years, Ajay says, the playschool chain has also been able to integrate technology into its systems in unique ways. It introduced speaking books a few years after the business was launched, and also claims to have used augmented reality and virtual reality in its centres to make educational experience better for its students.
Ajay says the rise of digital tools in education combined with the changes the coronavirus pandemic has brought have ushered in a new wave of ‘phygital’ education system where both online and offline modes are necessary to propel the sector forward.
As offline classes shifted to online during the pandemic, the company launched Bachpan Live platform, developed by its in-house tech team, in April 2020. It also launched Bachpan Live app to offer recorded sessions of classes, live classes, online books, and more. It also offers online self-learning programs for kindergarten and nursery students starting from Rs 5,000 and goes up to Rs 25,000 annually.
Since its launch, the platform has witnessed about 65,000 downloads, claims Ajay. He further adds that while the education system cannot run solely on online or offline modes, the stakeholders should focus on adopting a hybrid or a ‘phygital approach.’ He adds that the team has to continuously work towards improving the platform as the “parents of today have become very demanding.”
“You cannot sell them anything. They want to see quality programs.” In the coming months, Ajay plans to launch summer vacation courses on the Bachpan Live platform.
The road ahead
Having established schools from kindergarten to high school, Ajay’s focus has today shifted to university. In May 2020, Ajay, along with co-founders HP Mangla (entrepreneur and educationist) and Sahil Aggarwal (co-founder of Rashtram School of Leadership) established the Rishihood University in Sonipat, Haryana.
The university, formally inaugurated in December 2021 by Vice President of India, Shri Venkaiah Naidu, has kickstarted its first academic session. It also onboarded Union Minister Suresh Prabhu as the Founding Chancellor.
They plan to launch another branch in Andhra Pradesh soon.
The university provides entrepreneurship as a stream. Ajay says that India’s education system urges children to prepare for jobs, but the entrepreneurial perspective is somehow missing. “We believe we need to prepare students to become entrepreneurs.” The university has an incubation centre, and plans to give venture funding going forward.
“In our schools, we provide seed funding ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 lakh to students who come up with excellent innovative business models,” he concludes.
Edited by Megha Reddy