'Hybrid learning is the future, and test prep is a big segment within the entire education space in India.'
Peerzada Abrar reports.
After getting acquired by Byju's for $1 billion early this year, Aakash Educational Services (AESL) is transforming into a hybrid edtech firm and is expanding rapidly across the country.
AESL will launch 106 new centres across the country in the next 5 months. These will be a mix of extension centres and standalone centres.
In 1988, J C Chaudhry founded AESL as a tiny private coaching institute out of a room in West Delhi's Ganesh Nagar.
From 12 students in 1988, Aakash grew to 215 centres, with a student count of more than 250,000. The aim now is to have about 5 lakh students by the end of this year.
"Hybrid learning is the future, and test prep is a big segment within the entire education space in India. The answer going forward is going to be a combination of both (physical and digital) classrooms," says Abhishek Maheshwari, CEO. AESL.
"We had all the basics in place and it was about accelerating that journey. Post-Byju's coming in, it is further accelerating that," Maheshwari adds.
AESL provides test preparatory services to students preparing for medical and engineering entrance exams, school and board exams, KVPY, NTSE, Olympiads, and other foundation-level exams.
The institute clocks an annual turnover of about Rs 1,200 crore (Rs 12 billion), according to sources.
With a workforce of over 5,000 employees, AESL is looking at bringing in more than 2,000 people this year.
This is part of its offline or physical centre expansion strategy as well as to service the growth it is experiencing in the existing centres.
It is hiring talent across the spectrum, including academics, technology, sales, marketing, operations and other enabling functions.
"We are transforming ourselves as an organisation on three dimensions including getting closer to the customers, leveraging technology and physical centres, and hiring talent. Our expansion plan is largely based on that," says Maheshwari.
Leveraging Byju's tech expertise, AESL has created engaging and personalised learning programmes bringing the best of hybrid learning for the medical and engineering aspirants.
AESL is also increasing its presence and foraying into Bharat by opening centres in Tier 3 and 4 cities.
This is enabling it to get closer to its customers so that students do not have to travel to bigger cities to study.
"Earlier students would go to destinations such as Delhi, Kota and Hyderabad. Our need and aggression to go down to Tier-3 and Tier-4 markets with physical centres have gone up," says Aakash Chaudhry, managing director, AESL.
"We are adding over 100 centres and more than 50 per cent of them are actually coming up in Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities. We are also bringing a lot of technology there," Chaudhry adds.
An alumnus of the Harvard Business School, Chaudhry says physical classroom education will continue to operate as they have been, in the future as well.
This is because after having spent more than a year studying online, students are coming back to the physical classrooms.
"I think this really validates the decision for us to continue to expand both sides, the physical as well as the online."
The new centres will enable the company to further the teacher-student experience to take it to unexplored markets.
This would also help the firm set the bar higher for the test prep sector.
This includes the adoption of new technologies to make learning student-friendly in a digital and physical setting.
AESL is witnessing demand across the country as the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the adoption of online education.
Students and professionals are looking to upgrade their skills, while schools and offices remain shut.
It is competing with new and traditional education institutes to tap the country's $180-billion education sector that has gone online to adapt to the new reality.
Maheshwari, who joined AESL last year in November as CEO, is leading the omnichannel offerings of the company to help students achieve their aspirations and drive profitable growth for the group.
Prior to this, Maheshwari led international business for Byju's where he was responsible for driving Byju's growth globally.
He also served as head of Disney in India for several years where he was responsible for P&L, strategy formulation and execution across all of Disney's brands, businesses and functions.
At AESL, Maheshwari is witnessing a lot of demand from students to attend physical classes.
"There is some level of fatigue (learning) online. So people want a good mix of both wherever classrooms are open. We have done it following all the Covid protocols," says Maheshwari.
"If you want to come to the classroom two days a week and study from home two days a week, we are enabling that also."