Hemanth Sagar, 33, founder of a chain of 25 preschools in Bengaluru, has watched his schools shut down one by one in the last six months. “Only six of them are up now. If things don’t improve, I will have no option but to exit completely after December,” said Sagar, who worked with Hindustan Lever before starting his first Young World International Preschool in 2012. He has already started looking for a job.
In the National Capital Region, Arvind Bhasin, who runs the Vidyanjali chain of preschools, started a chain of grocery stores during the lockdown. All his 14 preschools, seven of them directly owned by Bhasin and the rest run under a franchise model, are currently shut.
With not enough quality day-care services for toddlers and children below three in urban areas, the preschool model had filled the vacuum for families with working parents. But now, with a pandemic raging and most parents working from home or faced with job losses, preschools across the country are staring at an uncertain future.
The distress is evident on social media sites and online marketplace platforms that are flooded with posts on owners looking to either sell their preschool merchandise or offering playschool takeovers for a price.
According to Prasanna Kumar, CEO of the Bengaluru-based School Ventures, an education consultancy firm that connects buyers and sellers of schools, about 700 playschools are currently up for takeover or sale in Bengaluru alone. There were 64 sale listings in March, he said.
So what does the shutting of playschools – part of an unregulated sector with widely varying standards – mean for children and working parents?
“There are two separate issues when it comes to private providers of early childhood education. Poor quality early childhood programmes can be detrimental to children. So if the centres closing are ones that are bad, then it’s good,” said Vrinda Datta, Director of the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development at Ambedkar University in Delhi.
Bela Kotwani, CEO and principal of CosmiKids International Preschool and Daycare in Mumbai, isn’t very optimistic either. “I don’t think the situation will improve for us till June-July next year. Even if the government allows us to reopen, I doubt parents will want to send young children,” she said. One of her two preschools shut down a week ago.