Businesses in Brazil are suffering these days. Those are dark times for us and there’s no sign of steady and sustainable recovery for the economy in the near future. Make no mistake: private schools and educational institutions are businesses, and therefore respond to the same logic of any other enterprise in the market. Forget about the romantic view of education, almost altruistic and not-for-profit: private schools need to profit from education. Education is their core business. And that’s OK, and that doesn’t diminish the noble task of preparing students to become citizens of the world.
The rules of the market apply to those institutions. The same idea of optimising costs and thus becoming more efficient applies to all those institutions. Also, there is an important saying that equally applies to educational institutions: crisis can be turned into an opportunity.
But what are the main opportunities available, reachable for private schools in Brazil these days? There are a number of them, and they all tend to move towards the idea of updating, almost resetting the concept of school that we have since the industrial age: standardized, teacher centered, analogic, deaf to students. A new school is rising above the debris of this obsolete concept. Schools who take too long to make this change, to move forward, to adapt to the new world we live in and to the new challenges the students will face, are doomed. But I will focus my attention on one change, maybe the one change that could turn into an incredible business for schools.
Students need to learn English. It’s something inevitable: a professional with no English these days is far behind, is far less competitive than another professional with similar skills but bilingual in English. Today, the majority of students who want to become minimally fluent in English need to go to a language school, to study after school. Parents need to pay extra money for students to go to those courses. And students need to commute from one place to the other, in times when all those safety issues are surrounding us.
Imagine a school that could offer parents an English language learning for their kids that would beat bilingual levels of those acquired at language schools? Imagine a school where students could stay in the same place, having the same number of English language hours per week, but in a much more effective approach, that would connect students’ learning from other areas of knowledge to that in the English class? Now picture a school where parents could clearly see the results of this new language acquisition approach in their kids and see the advantages of it compared to the traditional way?
Wouldn’t parents be willing to pay more – but much less than what they would usually pay for their children to study in a language school – to offer their kids this new English language learning approach?
The vast majority of parents always want the best for their children. And if the best comes at a good cost/benefit rate, even better.
Today there are a number of bilingual education programs in the market that offer this possibility for private schools. Some of them are really comprehensive and take care of all the issues related to the implementation of such a culture into the schools. It’s almost the concept of “plug and play”: you pay a fee and they take care of the rest.
I have seen and heard many school owners struggling with the idea of increasing their fixed cost by implementing a bilingual education program at their schools. Then they think of transferring to the parents all the costs involved, but immediately they fear loss of students because of the presumed sensitivity of parents to any price increase in times of crisis. So what do they do? Postpone. Do nothing. Wait… Well, I hate to tell it, but the right time for the change is NOW. There will always be schools that will make this change now. And, I can guarantee, if they do it right they will be ahead of those schools which decided to wait… Innovation comes with some calculated risks, but is a value these days. Pioneer schools might suffer with this decision to take one step ahead, but will always be “the first ones”. They will be the reference. The market will always look at them first. They will be trend setters.
At last, it is time for school owners to distinguish between costs and investment. Any business that wants to grow needs to have an investment, and have clearly in mind how long will it take for it to have the ROI, the Return On Investment. If you open up a McDonald’s franchise, you will invest a good amount of money, and it will take you at least 18 months to break even. So if school owners decide to implement a bilingual education program, this is investment – not cost. They should be ready to absorb a great deal of the “costs” and transfer to parents just the share that is affordable to them. The ROI will come with the results achieved – and advertised – that will turn the school into a reference in English teaching and learning in its community and will bring new parents interested in offering this opportunity for their kids at a reasonable price.
So be ready for this change NOW: you could turn the crisis into an opportunity.