Pushing the boundaries of innovative education

Both the private and international education sector has continued to grow in Asia. The segment valued at approximately US$100 billion back in 2016 has only gotten bigger since then.

According to Alister Bartholomew, Regional Director of Beaconhouse Asia, in Malaysia, the numbers have been equally encouraging with both private and international education industry generating tens of billions in revenue.

Beaconhouse has 19 schools across Southeast Asia. 13 schools here in Malaysia, two schools in the Philippines and four schools in Thailand.

“While there are a host of factors that have driven this growth within the region, I believe one of the critical factors have been the growing economy and wealth within the region,” he says.

The digital revolution taking place in the region has also given rise to more individuals of higher net worth who look at long-term high value investments like private and international education for their children.

Bartholomew also points out that with increased globalisation, more parents across the region have become more aware of alternative education options and their benefits.

“The entry of more prominent and well-established private and international education brands into the SEA market has also helped increase the credibility and competitiveness within the segment which has in turn led more parents to switch away from public schools,” he highlights.

A wake-up call

Bartholomew says the pandemic served as an important wake-up call and a game changer for schools to innovate and adapt as large portions of the industry have been too comfortable in their old ways.

“This acceleration is particularly evident in the digitalisation of teaching. Online classes across all subjects are now the norm and our teachers have become very adept at these online tools. Even for subjects that were conventionally very class-bound and hands-on, we have managed to find unique ways to keeping students engaged and learning effectively.

I believe this is what sets us apart, not only from the public sector but also the rest of the private and international education sector. Of course, having means to afford the right tools is an advantage but more importantly it is the ability to implement the tools effectively,” he says.

Speaking from a business perspective, the Regional Director says the pandemic has been a dampener on market growth, stalling the upward trajectory of the segment.

“It has been a tough time for people across the region with thousands of businesses closing, even more losing jobs or having to handle pay cuts. These economic struggles have certainly impacted the private and international education industry which seen some fall in enrolment numbers, as purse strings begin to tighten across the region,” the Regional Director tells BusinessToday.

The general border closures have had some amount of impact on the industry as well. While the large majority of students in Beaconhouse are either locals or expats living long-term in the country, the international border closures have impacted new enrolments as there are less expats moving into the country.

If this continues moving forward, Bartholomew says private and international education institutions would have to relook their strategies to maximise enrolment amongst locals.

“So long as the pandemic rages on, it will continue to be a rough year ahead. Some within the industry have been hit quite badly and it will take a significant time and investment to turn things around. With an economic downturn, challenges will still prevail in sustaining existing numbers let alone growing,” he says.

Even in the face of rising cases and no sign of border control easing to open at any moment, the Regional Director says education is not something that can do without. Those who are already comfortable and confident in the private and international education system will most likely want to maintain this for their children, despite the challenges.

“Beyond this, with the vaccine slowly but surely making its rounds, we are hopeful that by late 2021 and moving into 2022, things will start to normalise once more.”

Price points remain a hot topic

“Price point has certainly been a hot topic. Yes, we understand the need to drop prices to make it more attractive for parents, but we have to balance this against the increasing operating cost with classes being conducted online with new tools and even back in schools, the cost of added safety and sanitisation measures,” Bartholomew highlights.

He says this will continue to be balancing act moving forward not just for Beaconhouse but also for the entire private and international education sector.

The Regional Director also believes that by leveraging on their unique approach which incorporate holistic and life-long learning to differentiate we from the competition is a strategy that has proven effective thus far.

“We will continue to lean on these tried and tested approaches whilst also pushing the boundaries of innovative teaching to maximise potential in the more digital age.”

Moving forward, Bartholomew also believes that there is plenty of room to grow in the industry. “If we look at the urban areas, there is some amount of saturation – particularly here in the Klang Valley. But when we look to the outskirts of cities and suburban areas, there is still plenty of room to grow – especially in other states including Penang and Johor,” he points out.

As more families begin to move further out from cities in search of more balanced and peaceful lifestyles, there is growing demand for private and international education in these areas, the Regional Director tells BusinessToday.

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