Singapore-based pre-school operator Mindchamps is set to open its first centre in China in August. The company, which already has franchised operations in Australia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the Philippines, announced a joint venture with China First Capital Group in February, the Straits Times reports.
It aims to raise $200 million in capital to acquire existing schools on the Chinese mainland.
Bilingual kindergartens are a growing market across the world and have attracted the attention of traditional EFL providers including the UK’s Bell English and Apollo in Vietnam.
Even the British Council has opened dual language pre-schools in Hong Kong and Singapore.
The Chinese market is the biggest prize of all, with ninety per cent of all private educational investment in the country going into the provision of pre-school programmes.
A number of ‘branded’ approaches to Early Years provision have also taken off, including the Montessori method and the Waldorf programmes based on the work of Rudolf Steiner.
Mindchamps, which has a 38 per cent share of the Singapore for-profit pre-school market, boasts many of the features of historically successful EFL method schools. As well as a trade-marked curriculum, based on the concept of the ‘three learning minds’, it has its own 200-hour teacher training programme, and uses its own materials.
Bang up to date, Mindchamps claims its methods are evidence-based and quotes neuroscience, epigenetics and language acquisition research in support of its approach. Its global board features a host of educationalists including two American professors, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkof, and Steven Andrews, a senior educational adviser to the Blair government in the UK. The main inspiration for the Mindchamps programme, however is neuroscientist Professor Emeritus Allan Snyder, whose work led to his theory of the Champion Mindset which underpins the chain’s methodology.
Despite its academic credentials, Mindchamps has begun to face some of the difficulties familiar to EFL method chains. Its franchise model has led to teachers complaining on employer review website Glassdoor.com about conditions at some franchisee centres. One teacher working at a Mindchamp franchise wrote:
‘The programmes are very comprehensive, well-researched and overall excellent.’
But ‘you can expect to be treated as the lowest common denominator, especially if you are a new trainer …and you can expect to wait for a lifetime of Sundays before being paid…’
Teacher supply and retention may become a key concern for the company as it expands not only into China, where there are strict conditions for employing native English speaker teachers, but also into Vietnam and Myanmar.
As many EFL method schools have found, high teacher turnover can play havoc with profit margins.
Pic courtesy: PACAF