As Elizabeth Mwaura walks to her office at GrandStart School, she is mobbed by excited children.
She gives each a hug, calling them by name before they run off to resume play in the play area.
“Nothing makes a child feel engaged more than when you identify them by their name. It is intentional,” she says.
Ms Mwaura is the proprietor of GrandStart School located in Ruiru, Kiambu County. The school currently has kindergarten and grades One to Three with plans to expand to Grade Six starting next year. Ms Mwaura spoke to Enterprise on her journey and what it takes to run a private school.
What inspired you to start the school?
My undergraduate is in education but I was in corporate for a while. When I started six years ago, I had a kindergarten in mind. But with the growing demand for primary school, I decided to expand. For me, this business is my way back home to teaching.
How has the six-year journey been?
We started from rented premises that we had leased for about three years. The lease was not renewed, and we hurriedly started looking for other premises. But Covid struck and schools closed.
By then we had procured the land that we are now on. During the Covid period, we took the time to build this structure. When schools reopened, we communicated to parents that we would not be going back to the old premises. Initially, we had thought of just running the kindergarten.
How does location influence the kind of school one runs?
Location is everything. First, it is a catchment area. You will not, for example, start a high-end school in a low-income area. You would have gotten it all wrong. You need to look at the neighbourhood and assess the education needs of the area.
If this were a low-income area, we would not have this kind of building. In a low-income area, the main concern for parents would be the fee structure, but in middle or high-income areas, the facilities would be their biggest concern.
How easy or difficult is it to convince a parent to enrol their child?
It is basically a sales job. It is not so different from how a hawker will make you buy an item in town. If you can convince the parent that the child is at the centre of everything you do, then they are likely to buy in. We also do a lot of promotions, marketing, signage, and activations in malls; visibility is very important. It is a rigorous sale.
Again, word of mouth precedes everything else. Taking a child to school is enshrined in law, which may create the assumption that getting parents to enrol their children is not such a hard job. There is also free education for those who prefer public institutions.
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How do you stand out in such a competitive space?
It all boils down to choice. Remember we are not the only ones. Parents are bombarded with multiple choices - public schools and private international schools.
First, they need to know we exist, and that is where the visibility aspect falls. Then you have to talk to the parent about the benefits of choosing you against the others with aspects like child-teacher ratio.
How do you balance the varying needs of pupils and parents?
We are dealing with a very busy parent. They leave the house by 6am, and they are home as late as 9pm. One of the things we have done is we have eliminated a physical diary.
That diary will possibly only be seen by the house help because the parent is busy. And you cannot fault the parent.
They have to look for money. But if I told you about your child’s day when you are seated in your office at 3pm, you are able to know about their progress and if they need to come with something the following day.
It is again about anticipating the kind of parent you are dealing with. This way, you can tailor everything to fit their schedules. The child is our consumer, while the parent is the customer.