India: Sesame Street to franchise schools in world first


Renowned for teaching kids the basics of reading and counting on TV, Sesame Street is moving to create actual schools in India -- where it has already brought the program to slum children who don't have television at home through a traveling road show.

Known here as "Galli Galli Sim Sim," a close-enough translation of Sesame Street, the show's a huge success. And now, Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind the popular program, is going into the franchising business with pre-schools and after-school clubs for the first time, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The non-profit has chosen to start in India where industry experts suggest that 50% of all franchises are in the education sector, freelance writer Joanna Sugden writes for the paper's India Real Time blog said.

“India has lacked in terms of creating quality education. Its private education sector has grown and is a very interesting business model that India has presented to the world because the government has not been able to deliver,” WSJ quoted a spokesman for Delhi-based Franchise India, which helps businesses expand their franchises and franchisees decide where to invest, as saying.

It's an idea that Indians have already embraced. As I reported some years ago for Newsweek, problems with government-run schools have sparked a boom in private schooling throughout the developing world. In 2000, James Tooley, an administrator for Orient Global, a Singapore company that invests in education for the poor, went walking in Hyderabad, India, and was startled to find private schools on virtually every corner. He launched a full-scale study in India, China and Africa, and everywhere, officials and aid agencies told him such schools for the poor didn't exist. But when his researchers explored the villages and slums, they found that not only did they exist, they were flourishing. "It's a tremendous success story," says Tooley. "Entrepreneurs are catering to poor, low-income families, and they're achieving better than the government at a fraction of the cost."

Sesame Street schools are now being rolled out in Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh, following its first preschool in Jaipur. Sesame Workshop aims to have 20 schools up and running by March 2013, with plans for 382 within the first five years, the WSJ said.

The main challenges in India include finding good teachers and ensuring the 44-year-old Sesame Street brand is protected, the paper quoted Sashwati Banerjee, Sesame Workshop India's managing director, as saying.

“It’s important that we get quality and the right pedagogy and inculcate basic hygiene and safety features, because most Indians don’t understand that or are very lackadaisical,” Banerjee said.

Sesame Workshop is therefore considering starting its own teacher training college to provide a “bank” of fresh graduates trained in “Sesame” rather than the didactic style of teaching typical in Indian classrooms, the paper said.

Compared with the slum schools that I visited for Newsweek in 2007, it's a much more ambitious (and costly) vision. 

According to the WSJ, "franchisees must provide a building with at least 2,000 square feet of covered, carpeted space and adequate outdoor space for the play equipment Sesame Workshop prefers – made from wood and other natural materials that connect children with the outdoors."

Moreover, the license fee to start a Sesame preschool is 150,000 rupees ($2,700) for three years, the paper reported. Sesame Schoolhouse, which is based in India and oversees the enterprise as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sesame Workshop India, takes 15-20% royalties from a school’s earnings. Parents would pay between 25,000 rupees and 60,000 rupees a year on school fees, depending on the location.

Profits made by Sesame Schoolhouse will go toward making Sesame Street’s other ventures in India sustainable, according to Banerjee.