Modern Montessori International plans expansion in Africa

MODERN Montessori International (MMI), a company in Singapore that specialises in early childhood education, has plans to expand its business in the African market. Its goal is to open the first preschool under the MMI brand in Lagos, Nigeria, in January next year. It also aims to have about 2,500 trained teachers in Africa within the next one to two years.

T Chandroo, chairman and CEO of MMI, told BT in an interview that the reason behind the expansion in Africa was because of the market's enormous potential. According to his observations, the people in the continent were largely hungry for knowledge. At the same time, they want the best for their offspring and were receptive to early childhood education. The only barrier was that there were very few trained professionals in the field.

"What bothers them (the educators) is the fees. Because they are (in) a Third World country, they can't afford the high fees (to apply for proper training)," he said.

To counter this problem, MMI priced its teacher training fees at a more affordable rate to attract more aspiring teachers to enrol in the programme. According to Mr Chandroo, this enabled the company to develop a trained pool of teachers for early childhood education, and to raise the standard of early childhood educators in Africa, thereby uplifting talent development - a cornerstone for the country's socio-economic progress.

"Five or even 10 years down (the road), we want to train at least two to five thousand teachers in Nigeria who are able to go out and spread this message of the importance of early childhood education, (and) start working for private schools or the government schools," he added.

Apart from Nigeria, MMI also set up its teacher training centre in Kenya and Egypt. When asked why he chose these countries , Mr Chandroo said that these markets were where people approached him first and because they wanted to "take it (the brand) across", they were considered very serious partners, which led to the development of a business relationship.

Moving forward, Mr Chandroo hoped to venture into more countries within the African market, with enquiries coming from places such as Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. He said that MMI's London office is in discussion with these countries and intends to structure the same model of franchising the teacher training centres before opening preschools thereafter.

With regard to the inherent and future opportunities he saw in the continent, Mr Chandroo said that Africa would have wealthier individuals or companies with the money and the opportunity to set up private preschool centres. He also added that he wanted to have more preschools and teacher training centres, and ultimately go into setting up primary and secondary schools in Nigeria under the MMI brand within the next five to seven years.

When asked about the challenges he faced, Mr Chandroo refuted any. Instead, he credited his business franchise partners for giving him an easy time. "I've not faced many challenges because I've been blessed with good business franchise partners. I don't have difficulties getting my royalties paid by them and in terms of honesty, they are superb," he said.

He gave the example of the conscientious effort his partners made, by accounting for the exact number of students enrolled and the exact amount of fees paid to its London office. According to him, the only obstacle he faced was the distance he had to travel to visit his partners. Mr Chandroo had to make a trip down to London before catching another flight to the African countries. In addition, he mentioned a slight fear of the safety conditions in these countries, but was quick to add that his partners always gave him reassurance.

"They've taken care of me from the time I come out of the airport, escort me with bodyguards, put me in the hotel, (and) look after me. I mean, what else can I ask for? " he said.

The company's journey into Africa began about a dozen years ago in Lagos, Nigeria. It adopted a business model of opening teacher training centres through franchising first, before venturing into opening preschools. This is to lay a strong foundation of qualified teachers that are ready to provide good education for the children in the continent.

Mr Chandroo also mentioned that the reason for using the franchising mode of entry into the African market was because he was unsure of the market and lacked the confidence to make a direct investment so early on. He preferred to work with a good business partner first.

Hence, Tina Udoji, Nigeria's representative for MMI, together with her assistant, spent a year in London at the MMI global headquarters attending the teacher training programme to become an official trainer.

It was the determination and seriousness shown towards the programme that convinced Mr Chandroo to open the first teacher training centre in Lagos. Currently, there are four teacher training centres in Nigeria under the MMI brand.

"We are doing very well. We train almost 300 teachers a year and we want to go to our next level of discussions, to offer them preschool franchising under the MMI brand," said Mr Chandroo.

This article was first published on Oct 3, 2016.
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