The preschool aspires to a transparent, not-for-profit model where parents will have a say in everything from fees to curriculum.

Tired of schools trying to rip them off these Bengaluru parents decided to start their own Trustees, Citizens' Gurukul Trust
news Education Thursday, May 04, 2017 - 19:31

After many parents across the country raised their voices against yearly fee hikes in private schools, one group of parents in Whitefield, Bengaluru went one step further and decided to start their own school.

The Citizens Gurukul Trust was registered as a charitable, not-for-profit trust in March and hopes to start the admission process to its preschool in a few weeks’ time. The preschool aspires to function on a no profit-no loss model, where parents will have a say in almost everything – right from the hike in fees, to the curriculum, to the facilities in the school.

Abhilash Matlapudi, one of the founding trustees, is a 36-year-old project manager at a Bengaluru IT firm. The 14-member Trust, Abhilash says, aims to provide a platform to parents in the community to come forward and invest in changes they want in the education of their child.

Currently in the process of finalising a property for their school, Abhilash says that they will start admissions as soon as possible. 

“We already have at least 16 people interested in sending their children to the school. We should be functional by June, or by early July,” Abhilash told The News Minute. 

The beginning  

Last April, when Abhilash was in Riyadh at the time, he came across parents discussing the exorbitant fee hikes by private schools on social media, and decided to pitch in. 

With the experience of presiding over a residents’ welfare association with 172 apartment owners in Whitefield, Abhilash ran the idea of a community-run school on the Facebook group of Whitefield Rising, a citizens’ movement.

After receiving an overwhelming response, Abhilash was quick to send Google forms to everyone who had expressed interest, to assess how many were serious about contributing.

Upon his return in May 2016, he and a few others met and decided to form the Trust. While many had shown interest in being part of the initiative, some dropped out after a few meetings. It was also then that they decided to start a preschool instead of a fully-fledged school.

“Starting small and building up from there is always better. Plus, parents would be more willing to take a risk, given that it becomes tougher to change the school as the child grows up,” Abhilash said.

To ensure that they would remain committed, all 14 trustees contributed a cheque for Rs 10,000 each.

The execution

Forming a Trust was the easy part; they now had get down to the logistics such as finding the right location, securing land, and deciding a curriculum.

The Trust met with investors, who expressed interest in the project. However, most were not keen on a not-for-profit model. 

“Most of them wanted to turn it into a profitable business. When we told them that we wouldn’t be able to provide them with that, they were reluctant to associate with us,” Abhilash said.

A symposium the Trust organised at Whitefield club calling for interesting parties, including teachers

They then decided to rent a property for which the owner would receive rent but not the profits, if any. They had finalised a property in Dodsworth Layout but after the owner backed out at the last minute, they have been searching for a substitute and have shortlisted a few.

“We will mostly go with a 3BHK or 4BHK villa, which should allow us to take a 60-70 children,” Abhilash said.

However, the primary issue of fixing a fee remains to be addressed. Abhilash said that they will be able to zero in on a figure once they finalise the premises which will give them an idea about the amount of rent they will need to recover from the fee. The fee will also depend on the number of teachers employed and the facilities that the parents decide are necessary.

Since the trustees will not take any profits for themselves, the funds will go into improving the school and teachers’ salaries. Decisions about hike in teachers’ salaries will be taken in consultation with parents. 

Citizens Gurukul volunteers speaking to parents at one of Whitefield's apartments about the community school

They also plan to lay down a set of by-laws whereby they will decide how much majority is mandatory for what issue.  A decision about a major infrastructural addition for instance, will two-third majority from parents rather than a simple majority. 

The Trust is consulting education experts to decide the curriculum, which is not required to be affiliated to a board as it is a pre-school.  Ambika Sen, a Whitefield Rising Trustee, who has a background in child development and child psychology, has also agreed to train the teachers they hire.  

Baby steps

The Citizens’ Gurukul Trust is relying largely on donations and CSR for the immediate infrastructural needs of the school, such as buying benches and tables. This measure has been taken to ensure the financial burden is not shifted to parents in case they suffer losses in the first year. 

“We just want to break even in this year. There is a lot that we have to still figure out and we will do it along the way. But at the core, we want to start community school that is for and of the community,” Abhilash says.

He hopes that their trials and errors will pave the way for more such models in Bengaluru and across the country. “If a group of parents wants to start their own community school, we hope to provide them with advice and support,” Abhilash says.

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