How GEMS Education is Leading Change in the New Normal

GEMS Education’s Group Chief Disruption Officer, Krishnan Gopi shares insights into the technology disruption journey that has empowered one of the world’s largest K-12 private education providers to lead the way in the new normal.

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Innovation has been the most critical ingredient for any company that desires to differentiate in its journey towards becoming a digital enterprise. This desire pushes organisations to adopt new technologies and transform their business models. Today, the need of the hour is to not only embrace innovation but also actively pursue disruptive innovation. By definition, disruptive innovation helps create new markets and new business values. Increasingly companies across verticals are realising that disruption cannot be a concept that they leave to chance. It is pertinent for firms to chart out future business continuity strategies keeping in mind the evolving nature of the industry and market circumstances. How can they make disruption and innovation intrinsic to the fabric of their organisation culture? How can they constantly churn out better business outcomes while simultaneously leaving a mark in their vertical? These are a couple of the questions that a Chief Disruption Officer (CDO) always has on his mind.

The CDO, one of the latest entrants in the C-Suite, is increasingly becoming a highly sought-after role across most verticals, including education. While existing CxOs lead the business growth and operations of today, the Chief Disruption Officer prepares the business for tomorrow. The Chief Disruption Officer is responsible for foreseeing disruptive solutions that will alter the industry landscape to drive better outcomes to the bottom line. A successful CDO is one who is specialised in running large scale disruption/ digital / transformation projects. He or she should be a techno-functional expert, an effective change agent, an out-of-the-box thinker, an agile guru with an ability to anticipate and predict global patterns and be an effective communicator capable of resolving conflicts between IT and business.

Founded in 1959, GEMS Education, one of the world’s largest K-12 private education providers, has embarked on a Technology Disruption Journey to create agile, scalable, and future-ready technology capabilities for the education needs of today and tomorrow. Group Chief Disruption Officer of GEMS Education, Krishnan Gopi says, “In the new normal, organisations must find ways to be the disruptor and not get disrupted by understanding what can pose a survival challenge to their business model. Organisations that do not embrace disruption risk finding themselves on the list of giants who have fallen. It is here that the role of a CDO gains relevance.”

Krish adds that “CDOs are strategically placed in a company to take bold decisions and rally support from all. They not only launch the organisation on its disruptive trajectory but also help it fundamentally evolve.” Understanding that technology holds the key to the future of education, and Krish and his team have embarked on a three-year technology disruption journey which is now in the third phase.

The CDO explains that the journey consists of executing multiple strategic technology initiatives segmented across three key areas in phased manners – ‘Fix the Fundamentals (FY18-19)’, ‘Strengthen the Building Blocks (FY19-20)’ and finally ‘Accelerate Disruption and Incremental Value Creation (FY 20-21)’.

As part of this journey, GEMS Education has developed its own IP suite of products and solutions which includes: Phoenix, an end-to-end school management platform; Classroom, an advanced learning management system; HSE, a health and safety and child safeguarding system; Connect, an enterprise mobility platform; Pulse, an education CRM; GEMS Garage, a digital re-purposing platform; AppStore, a unified view of education apps; and GEMS Alumni, a platform to connect alumni of GEMS schools.

“The successful execution of FY18-20 initiatives has resulted in significant efficiency increases (automated 13K+ man-days), customer experience enhancements, huge cost optimisation, standardisation, technology consolidation, control improvements, and secured data and IT assets,” Krish explains. “In the third phase of our disruption journey, we will further augment the capabilities developed in the previous phases.”

At the onset of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns last year, educational institutions across the country had their work cut out for them – to move to a completely online model.

According to Krish, this transition would have been extremely challenging for any school. “When the regulators decided to move from traditional to online learning, we were one of the very few school groups that were ready to go. Remote learning may have taken many schools by surprise. While most of our competitors regionally and across the globe struggled and took months to get ready for the new normal, GEMS Education began from a position of strength. This is thanks to sustained investments in technology in the prior years and also because we were already continuously training our teachers towards this possible future.”

Therefore, the biggest challenge that GEMS Education faced was not about implementing the solutions, instead it was managing change among the different stakeholders – students, parents and teachers – to adapt to the new normal.

“To enable a successful change management, we extensively trialled remote learning sessions, with dedicated teachers at home testing online platforms with students. We also set up a centralised helpdesk to respond to parents’ and students’ queries, and provide appropriate technical support during the remote learning period,” says Krish.

The company also established a quality assurance programme to monitor on a weekly basis the remote learning sessions taking place in each school, measured through digital learning progress parameters such as quality of learning, quality of remote provision, student engagement and parent satisfaction levels.

“In addition, we worked closely with the regional telecom operators, the UAE’s Ministry of Education and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) to whitelist collaboration apps such as Teams, Zoom and Google Meet, for voice / video calling features to enable seamless online delivery of lessons.”

Thanks to its relentless company-wide efforts, the education institution successfully delivered over 28 million collective remote learning sessions during the lockdown period, with 96% student satisfaction. 

Krish says, “Our exemplary response in learning continuity has been recognised by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), who rated our remote learning programme as the top-tier ‘Developed’ in the distance learning evaluation across Dubai.”

As per an independent survey, conducted by LEK, a British management consulting firm, GEMS Education’s remote learning programme displayed a higher level of satisfaction (95% of parents said they were satisfied / very satisfied, equating to 15% more satisfied parents as compared to the average UAE school).

According to GEMS Education’s CDO, the future holds “truly exciting and groundbreaking EdTech initiatives, including but not limited to establishing advanced online tutoring platforms, developing intelligent AI-driven virtual avatars for enhanced teaching and learning outcomes, building an advanced adaptive learning platform driven by cognitive AI solutions, introducing a versatile mixed reality-based platform for an immersive learning experience, and creating a unified blockchain-based credentialing system.”

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