Pearson’s new investments in India: From helping Delhi bus drivers learn English to aiding California students in math

Bus in DehliSnaking through the streets of Delhi, the white, green and yellow buses of the Delhi Transport Corporation proudly proclaim in big letters: “World’s Largest Eco-Friendly C.N.G. (Compressed Natural Gas) Bus Service.”

Delhi transport officials want to ensure that friendliness also extends to the bus drivers – and Pearson is playing its part.

In advance of the XIX Commonwealth Games, which are expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors to Delhi in October 2010, about 3,000 bus and train drivers are enrolling in a program to polish both their English skills and their customer care.

Pearson’s role comes through IndiaCan, a joint venture formed in November 2009 between Pearson and Educomp Solutions to provide vocational training in India, including English language skills. I-Can, as the 50:50 venture is known, will help Indians develop skills both online and through dedicated training centres.

“Please have a seat sir … How can I help you? … Welcome on Board,” are just some of the English expressions included in a training manual developed for the Delhi transport project. The manual also includes rules on grooming and etiquette, printed in both English and Hindi, ranging from “neatly combed hair” to avoiding fidgeting “especially foot tapping.”

The title of the program – written in Hindi – is “Customer is King.”

IndiaCan“IndiaCan plans to set up more than 600 centres to help provide these sorts of ‘soft skills’ and other types of vocational training to help Indians, particularly young people, obtain entry-level jobs in various growing sectors,” says Sharad Talwar, chief executive of IndiaCan. “The first set of courses are in Spoken English, Accounts, Sales, Retail and IT. Additional courses will be launched shortly.”

$30 million in new India investment

Pearson announced in June 2009 that it was investing a further $30 million in India, for a 50 percent stake in a joint venture with Educomp to develop vocational training and a 17.2 percent stake in Bangalore-based TutorVista.com, an online tutoring service that links about 2,000 tutors based in India with about 20,000 subscribers, mostly U.S. students.

India presents a large and transformational opportunity for Pearson, one that includes educational services in the Kindergarten-Grade 12 space. Pearson’s strategy of combining educational material, software and assessment to raise student achievement is a good match for India’s needs and aspirations in all sectors of education.

Already, Pearson’s education operations in India include a publishing business that supports 4,000 titles and operates publishing centres in Delhi, Chennai and Chandigarh; more than 200 testing centres that are part of Pearson VUE, the company’s computer-based testing arm; and the Pearson Clinical and Talent Assessment business, which began in May 2009 to market assessment products used by special education teachers, clinical psychologists and speech specialists.

TutorVista: Even top students hit “small bumps”

About 1,100 miles south of Delhi, in India’s high-tech capital Bangalore, staff are monitoring online sessions in which tutors working from their homes in India are helping students in the U.S. It’s 10:30 a.m. in Bangalore, so that’s peak tutoring period for students on the West Coast of the U.S., where the local time is 9 p.m.

“A 975 kilogram car crosses the rounded top of a hill (radius = 88 meters) at 12 meters per second. What is the normal force exerted by the car on a 72 kilogram driver?” asks a problem flashed on a screen shared by the tutor and student.

Using an online whiteboard and a computer keyboard, student and teacher can both draw diagrams on the main part of the computer screen while they “talk” online on the left side of the screen. Some students prefer to speak to the tutor through Voice over Internet Protocol, but 80 percent of the 5,000 to 6,000 daily tutoring sessions use typed on-screen chat.

Tutor VistaMathematics and English are the big focus areas for TutorVista.com, though the company also offers chemistry, biology and physics, and has piloted Spanish. About 30% of students are in college and 40% are in high school, while the rest are younger students – including a six-year-old girl in Tennessee whose parents want her to gain insight into another part of the world through tutoring by an Indian.

“She’s learning about different types of animals, different types of weather,” says Krishnan Ganesh, who founded TutorVista.com in 2005. “At the time of Thanksgiving in the U.S., they chatted about why many people over here in India are vegetarians.”

About 80% of the tutors are women, while 60% have masters degree and 20% have doctorates. Many of them are young mothers who tutor for 20 hours per week from their homes. While 95% of the tutors live in India, there are a few elsewhere including the U.S. and the Philippines.

 About 60 percent of TutorVista.com's users are excellent students, says Mr. Ganesh.

“TutorVista is really designed for the mass market,” he says. “Some students might use it for basic learning, but many others just need to get over a small bump. Even (tennis star) Roger Federer needs a coach to work on things from time to time, perhaps his second-serve speed.”

“The key strategic imperative for Indian business”

Back in Delhi, IndiaCan has two big training partnerships already in place, with the business group Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Mumbai-based logistics company TranSmart, which operates large warehouses.

For CII, I-Can will deliver a program designed by Edexcel, Pearson’s accreditation and certification business, to certify vocational-training assessors in various sectors. Edexcel also designed a program to enable TranSmart employees to achieve international standards through BTEC qualifications.

The Indian government is encouraging such benchmarking in order to professionalise and modernise an economy traditionally based on apprenticeships rather than certified standards.

“It’s clear that the human resource factor, the skills factor, has become the key strategic imperative for Indian businesses,” says Khozem Merchant, president of Pearson India.

In addition to operating its own training centres, I-Can is helping 16 government-run Industrial Training Institutes improve their training infrastructure and programs. This private-public partnership helps the institutes modernise their courses, and also helps the I-Can better understand the profile of young people who will attend I-Can’s own centres.

Trainees “aged 14 to 40”

One government training institute that I-Can is working with is located on Jail Road in West Delhi, in a two-story pink-and-beige building with steel window frames. About 450 trainees are enrolled in 14 disciplines.

In a computer laboratory, students are learning basic skills to enable them to use Microsoft programs such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint, while a chart on the wall outlines the history of computers back to the “First Generation” models using vacuum tubes beginning in the 1940s. Other rooms house a garment-making class and an electronics lab, among other courses.

The need for such training will only continue to grow. More Indians are entering the middle classes, and the current Indian government has liberalised the economy to encourage more entrepreneurship, thus luring people into private business rather than government jobs.

“We have people here aged 14 to 40,” says the West Delhi institute’s principal, Ram Gopal, adding that until not long ago the upper age limit for men was 25 unless they were ex-servicemen. “It’s changed because now there are many more private-sector jobs, or people working for themselves.”