Outsourcing in schools

Having met nearly 400 school leaders (Principals/Trustees) and many other school service providers in the last 4 years at EduSports, I have been fascinated with the way schools have been approaching the school service provider ecosystem.

Many school leaders have posed the question, “So many people like you have started offering solutions to schools. English Labs, Math labs, Science labs – and now even sports is being outsourced”

And the real angst was in this one: “So, what are the school leaders supposed to do? Just provide the building and the Board affiliations?”

The entire ICT revolution was probably not seen as an outsourcing – but more as a fundamental improvement in the way our kids should be taught. While there are strongly held views about the efficacy of this medium, in my understanding, this was not seen as outsourcing. It was seen as an upgrade up of school infrastructure.

Outsourcing seems to be seen as a sign of weakness. A sign that you have admitted defeat on that particular front – and hence you need a partner.

While “outsourcing” is an easy way of defining what is currently happening between schools & education service providers in India, I think there is one significant from the classical outsourcing that we have seen like outsourcing software to India or manufacturing to China:

In classical outsourcing, customers outsource their non-core functions. Customers retain their core function(s) .

While schools have been outsourcing buses, meals, uniforms, books etc for years, the in-school education was always their core function.

In what is being called “outsourcing in schools”, schools are being offered programs by service providers to help them deliver on their core function – to educate kids.

For many years, schools have been focused inward in working with their teachers & resources. And the most successful schools were those that did a great job of this.

Given the reality of the school system wrt availability of trained teachers, attrition, inability of a school to invest in high quality content/tools/assessments for a particular subject and competition between schools, it seems that schools have to partner with 3rd party service providers to deliver on the promise of “holistic” education.

Like any outsourced partner, the service providers are able to invest significantly higher (than an individual school) in the issues related to educating children on that particular subject.

And hence the angst: “So, what are school leaders supposed to do?”

In my view, the core function of the school leadership & the teachers will evolve given the reality of the K-12 education sector.

The ability to make a school work in partnership with the in-school staff and the service providers will soon become the key value that a school management will bring to the table.

Integrating the service providers inputs with the rhythm of the school will start becoming a competitive edge.

Can a school reduce costs by leveraging a service providers’ content team – or it’s ability to source certain items at a larger scale? Can a school integrate its existing assessment systems with the service providers’ systems to provide an integrated view to the parent? Can a school plan its calendar so that it can leverage the service providers’ portfolio? Can the school teachers deliver a better educational experience to the children?

Defining the vision, the values & the culture and then finding service providers who align with these will become the key success criteria. And the really critical part will be to make sure that the partnerships actually deliver value to the children & parents. Not just remain a marketing gimmick to convince parents that the school has a “tick mark” against that subject.

Going ahead, the schools might have to consider a balance between an inward focus – of defining their values, vision etc along with getting the right in-school team – and an outward focus – of finding the right partners who can help them deliver on their vision.

In the end, the parents want a good quality education for their wards. Who provides them – In-school teachers or service providers – doesn’t really matter.

And maybe the word “outsourcing” will get replaced with “partnering” – because over the last 4 years and across nearly 300 schools in 70 cities now, the most successful implementation of our EduSports program has been in “Partner Schools” that really look at us – not as a vendor – but as a partner in delivering a better sports education experience to the child.

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