Bangalore: If you decide to buy an iPad later this year, consulting your preschool-going child might make sense. Chances are your kid is using the tablet computer in class.

Competition ahead: Kids at a Shemrock playschool. India’s preschool industry is estimated to exceed $3.43 billion by 2012, growing at an average 28.3% since 2008, according to brokerage CLSA Asia Pacific. Hemant Mishra / Mint

“Technology is going to be big in our lives and we want our students to be comfortable with it from the very beginning," said Amol Arora, managing director, Shemrock Schools, which plans to buy one iPad each for groups of three-four students when Apple Inc. launches the computer in India by May-end.

The New Delhi-based school, which plans to expand to 185 centres across India over the next year from 120 now, groups 15 students in a classroom.

India’s preschool industry is estimated to exceed $3.43 billion (Rs15,264 crore) by 2012, growing at an average 28.3% since 2008, according to brokerage CLSA Asia Pacific.

The concept of preschools, or playschools, has picked up pace in recent years due to increasing awareness that a huge percentage of learning takes place before the age of five as the brain develops most rapidly in this phase, said Hyderabad-based child psychologist Noora Sinha. Behavioural tendencies are also formed during this phase.

Neha Ahuja, professional marketing manager (oral care), Procter and Gamble India, who sends her two-and-a-half-year-old twin sons to an upmarket preschool in Bangalore, says her main expectation is for them to learn good habits and develop a general awareness of things around them.

“They are a lot more into sharing now, wishing each other in the morning and at bed time, and little things like washing hands when they come home or before food... things which are difficult to teach at home," says Ahuja, who pays a fee of Rs2.4 lakh a year for her two children.

Prajodh Rajan, president of India’s biggest preschool chain, Eurokids International, says educational goals have remained the same over the decades but approaches have changed.

Eurokids wants to replace its flash cards and charts with interactive touch screens. “There is a heightened awareness among kids due to their exposure to technology and gadgets," said Rajan.

Eurokids has 584 schools in 260 cities and plans to add 250 more over the next year.

The preschool industry is seeing a host of new entrants.

Education firm Edserv Softsystems Ltd recently entered the preschool segment with the acquisition of Chennai-based Sparkling Minds. Aakash Educational Services Ltd, which has 45,000 pre-medical and engineering entrance coaching centres across India, started its first preschool in New Delhi on 12 April.

Called Bumble Bees, the preschool has traffic parks to teach road behaviour, a dedicated super market to teach kids to shop, dummy ATMs, or automated teller machines, and even a golf course.

“Competition is so high in this age that it is of utmost importance to instil confidence in a child," said Aakash Chaudhry, director, Aakash Educational Services. “Dealing with things on their own is one way of installing it. It gives them an edge over others."

Bumble Bees even has a “mother toddler" programme for six-month-olds, charging Rs69,100 a year. Fees at most preschools are in the range of Rs40,000-1.2 lakh a year.

Not everyone thinks the evolution is positive. Child psychologist Sinha says while it’s good to introduce technology, interaction with human beings is crucial for a child as they need assurance and support.

“A child growing too fast is never really good. ATM is not something that a child needs at the age of two or three years because they do not understand the concept of money," she said.