Zee Learn plans to set up 500 K-12 schools

Zee Learn Ltd is set to become the largest operator of K-12 (kindergarten to XIIth standard) schools in the country.

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Zee Learn Ltd, which has established KidZee as the largest pre-school chain in India with over 900 centres, is set to become the largest operator of K-12 (kindergarten to XIIth standard) schools in the country.

Its K-12 vertical under the Mount Litera Zee School banner is targeting 400-500 schools across the country in 5-7 years.

The schools will be set up largely through the franchisee route while a considerable number will be management contracts and owned and operated institutions.

Sumeet Mehta, CEO, Zee Learn, said there are currently 42 operational schools with another 70 in the pipeline.

“Next year we will add 24 schools followed by 35 more the year after. In terms of signing the projects, we should cross 100 schools by next month. The plan is to add 30-40 schools every year under franchise system,” said Mehta.

Zee Learn has also signed two management contracts to brand and operate educational institutions under Mount Litera banner.

“We began with two schools this year but we think this is going to be a significant part of the portfolio,” he said.

The company is also putting up own schools investing proprietary money in the land, building and related infrastructure.

It is setting up six schools that are designed to be centres of excellence. “The approved projects are in various stages of development. The projects are coming up in Punjab (2), Haryana (1), Maharashtra (2) and Goa (1). Each of these schools will require an investment of Rs30-40 crore,” Mehta said.

While the current revenue contribution from schools is not huge, Mehta said the installed capacity is such that it already ensures a significant level of revenue growth in the coming years.

He said putting up an owned school is a real estate project in the first three years at least after which it takes the shape of an educational project.

“Currently, we are in the real estate phase. Our belief is that schools are for the next generation and hence people need to be patient if they are getting into this business. The first 6-7 years will be used largely to pay off all the debt on the books and thereafter it will give an internal rate of return of 25% annually till perpetuity,” he said.

Zee Learn’s pre-school segment is growing at a compounded annual growth rate of over 25% annually and the company plans to add over 100 pre-schools annually through the franchisee route. “Last year we added about 175 centres and are expecting to do a similar number if not more,” he said.

The company’s revenues primarily come from pre-schools wherein KidZee business model is such that every time a centre is signed, Zee Learn gets some revenue and as children enrol, the company gets a percentage of the fees. As a result, the KidZee revenues continue to grow based on the number of new centres.

“Last year while consumers spent around Rs150 crore on Zee Learn, we booked net revenue of around Rs45 crore. This is because in the franchisee system we only book our share and not the total system revenues. Of the total net revenues, around 65-70% came from KidZee,” Mehta said.

For the upper tier of consumers, the company is creating another chain of schools branded as Mount Litera World School and a pre-school equivalent of it called as Mount Litera World Pre-School.

The first project is coming up at Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai and being developed over 1.4 acre with a state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities. Admissions at this facility are likely to start in 2013.

“It will be an integrated education complex comprising school and media management training institute. The cost of developing this project is envisaged to be in upwards of Rs50 crore,” he said.

Zee Learn recently got a shareholder approval to raise long-term funds by issuance of equity and / or equity linked instruments from domestic or international capital markets up to the value of $60 million. The money will very likely be used towards expanding the owned and operated K-12 schools and Mount Litera World Schools.

The company is looking to replicate the Mount Litera World School model in cities like Bangalore and Delhi and a few other markets depending on the demand.

The company has added a new vertical called School Solutions with the idea of making a significant impact on education and human capital with the existing 1.1-1.2 million government schools across the country.

Under this, Zee Learn will work with the schools to enhance education quality and is developing a teacher training programme. The company has already signed up 100 schools thus far and expects to add over 50 schools every month.

Mehta said the company had done a research over the last six months across schools in the country and the teacher training programme is being designed keeping in mind the existing gaps as well as the future skills requirement by the faculty.

“We are trying to create a more sustainable teacher engagement programme that addresses real needs. Things like how to manage a class, how to work with the new generation of children who are growing in a world which is so different from what it was earlier,” he said.

“The children who are coming to our schools will graduate in 2030 and nobody really has a clue how the world will be two decades from now. We need to create teachers who can actually relate to this generation and get them ready for that future. If you look at the B.Ed programme, its core has not really changed despite attempting to make it a two-year course. Children are living in a media-rich world and are expected to learn in a chalk and talk classroom,” said Mehta.

Among Zee Learn’s new initiatives with the objective of bringing together the community of educators, policymakers and key influencers from India and abroad is an annual property called the MLZS Future of Education Summit 2011.

“This summit is dedicated to the evangelisation of the education fraternity, students and parents alike and brings about a marked change in the perception and execution of educational systems and methodologies in India. Breaking from traditional moulds and methodologies forms the fulcrum of the programme and that was aptly demonstrated in the various activities conducted at an inter school meet organised by the school,” said Mehta.

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