From the next door aunty-run day care creches to corporate management style institutes promising seats for the tiny tots in prestigious schools, play schools have come a long way with the corporate sector vying to capture a share of the lucrative market.
Once a largely untouched arena by the corporate world, the pre-school space has increasingly seen a spate of forays by new entrants, all hoping to capture a pie of this growing revenue stream in the changing economic scenario.
Pre-school brands have now become a popular trend with parents with higher disposable income and exposed to international educational trends turning to branded players.
"I want the best education for my child and feel that a branded player was a better bet in terms of ensuring compliance to international standards of teaching-learning methods and regular update on training," says a mother.
Brightly painted walls sporting a Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, fancy carrot/apple shaped chair and tables, ice-cream shaped toy wagons and paintings of rainbows running across the classroom with butterflies chasing the wind, - all present a different ambience.
The rough rumble-and-tumble play in muddy grass patches and study through rudimentary chalk-board technique has given way to video rooms for interactive studying time, carefully researched educational toys and books that cater to the age-related curiosity of the child.
"The ambience is child-friendly. Even our toilet seats are made in a way that a little child can use it," says Uday CEO, Eurokids, a national preschool brand.
"The pre-school scenario has moved from the local standard next-door-aunty run school-cum-day care creche to a formalised scenario based on extensive curriculum research and proper systems in place," said Amul Arora, head, Shemrock, a chain of leading branded pre-school player.
"Currently, the branded pre-school space is in the nascent stage," with just 20 per cent in the metros and 10 per cent in smaller towns accounting for such branded schools.
However, this space is quickly expanding with even small places like Silvassa, Pinjor in Haryana actually having one, he said.
According to Sumeet Mehta, CEO, Zee Learn, that runs the Kidzee brand of pre-school "currently the pre-school penetration all India was just 16 to 17 per cent," which meant that a large percentage still did not think it important to send their two-year-olds to school and considered such schooling 'too early" for a child.
"Currently the ball park figure for organised branded players was 20 per cent," he said.
"However, with the economy opening up, growing parental awareness of the benefits of sending their child to pre-school, the space is growing," said Sumeet.
"Parents have begun realising and research confirms that the first five years of a child are most critical. Right stimulus at this age could set them for life and pre-school tended to provide that stimulus," he said.
According to Uday, "many of the next-door-aunty run schools do not have age-appropriate teaching-learning." The lack of any regulation had led in "anybody starting a school."The methods in several were not from a child's perspective.
However, players like Eurokids had invested large amounts in research in building the curriculum, training teachers and recruitment of faculty. "The focus is on holistic learning" and the philosophy that every child is different.
Sumeet said, "We have come up with our own methodology which we plan to patent." The proprietary methodology comes out of research of 20,000 parents and 2,000 teachers. It is based on the premise "that every child is unique and one approach cannot fit all."
"It is designed to cater to unique learning style of each child and to customise it to the child's requirement. Children in a class can be divided into four different ways in whichthey comprehend a concept and the teacher after observing the child ensures that the concept for different children is communicated in the style they understand."
According to Amol, they continuously sought to upgrade and improvise their curriculum and their ISO certification is an independent validation of their teaching methods.
The pre-school brands that primarily work on the franchisee model ensure a standard of teaching by focussing on a centralised control on the teaching methodology through regular training sessions and uniform curriculum.