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We're not about procedural niceties. We're about outcomes.

An Academic Map to AL1

Many centres focus on the procedural: they might emphasise aspects that would most certainly be nice to have — only provided that everything else is in place. A fixation on procedural niceties is not what Academia is about. Because of our own personal experiences, we know that to a large extent students in all developed countries are concerned about getting ahead and being the ones who qualify for what are, in fact, extremely limited slots in life. 

Let’s instead start off with the solid thesis that has defined Academia since our inception: Academia is all about succeeding academically. There are many words for this approach: results- or goal-oriented. Focused. Pragmatic. Realpolitik. However, the reality which we accept first and foremost is that Singapore is extremely competitive in terms of educational outcomes and that many students compete for certain limited slots, positions and outcomes. In Singapore, we believe, the results come first for most students — and subsequently, everything else falls into place.

Our DNA: Your results.

Because it’s in our DNA to avoid talking about the procedural, we focus on outcomes. Our outcomes for 2020 were especially solid: our graduating batch of PSLE students achieved an unprecedented 52% A*, which we believe to be one of the highest A* rates for English of any centre in Singapore. Indeed, because we have a very keen focus on delivering results for our clients, we can also be very upfront about where we might depart from other centres. For one, our programme is extremely intensive. It is intensive not because we deliberately designed it to be intensive but because there is no other way to achieve such consistently good results for our students.

Our Managing Director and Director of Teaching & Curriculum are a former nationwide top student and Vice-Principal, respectively. If anyone knows how to get ahead in the education system, they would be the ones — and the truth of the matter is that drilling, continuous practice and legwork are essential to achieving the right academic outcomes for students.

This fact is not just unique to Singapore, but can be found in all developed world cities across the globe. From London and New York to Shanghai and Beijing, the global class of elites spend their time sourcing for the best tutors and educational institutions to support their children and allow them to get into the Ivy League and Oxbridge, which remain the gold standard in terms of global reputations (although NUS and NTU have also achieved world-class reputations in recent years). The rat-race is not a uniquely Singaporean phenomenon: in fact, parents in New York and London are more similar to many Singaporean parents than they might care to admit. In the meanwhile, it is true that it is important to develop interests outside of academics, but that fact does not diminish the importance of academics: good academic results are a baseline that must be achieved in order to even get past the door, something that is necessary in order to get into top universities and go on to global jobs, but that does not actually guarantee it.

As our Managing Director, Johann Loh, describes it,

“The students at Princeton were no different from the students you meet at Raffles Institution. They worked extremely hard, studied throughout the night to ensure that they would get top results, and had clearly spent their entire childhoods preparing for their futures. At Raffles, I studied on weekends with the brightest students in Singapore; but at Princeton, the brightest people in the world would pull all-nighters and there was a cap on the number of A grades that professors could give out, which means that everyone was graded against a curve and always in competition with one another. The level of competition in America was far more significant than the level of competition in Singapore at any point during my education. People who say that education in America is less stressful than in Singapore are relying on stereotypes from the 1990s and do not have the full picture today.”

Given that the new AL system is here in 2020, we believe that there will be even greater competition at the upper ends of the spectrum for students who wish to go to certain secondary institutions. Therefore, we have been prepping to ensure our clients are able to achieve their goals for PSLE English and mitigate the risks associated with a subpar outcome in a year where things could go in any direction.

Pandemic Truths. Academia's Push.

There is also an overarching global reason for this: the pandemic and its effects have accelerated global inequality and exacerbated the gulf between the educational elite and everyone else. It was previously possible to believe that there were other possibilities for employment other than the purely practical, the technocratic and analytic. In the post-pandemic world, we see a reversion back to the fundamentals: real skills, rigour and academic credentials are so important once more. We see this taking place not only in Asia but even in the West, which had pushed the narrative of whimsical and unexpected career paths for the past couple of decades and is now seeing a sobering return back to the reality of a world where intelligence and hard skills matter. Thankfully, in Singapore, we never quite fully embraced this narrative — our Asian and Confucian roots have always privileged the hard, academic core of education and competition. 

This year, Academia has prepared a programme that embraces the possibilities of technology — not to push all kinds of frivolous games on our clients, but to further enhance the drills and quizzes that we have developed for years. We do not shy away from doing drills: in fact, as Mr Loh has often mused, “At RI, all the students would spend their time doing 10 year series, past papers and other such practices in order to prepare for our examinations and ensure that we remembered all the content and could apply it properly. This was the same at Princeton and Oxford, where people literally spend all day and night in the libraries studying for examinations. I would be very skeptical of any system that treats these as unimportant at an early age and conditions students to believe that life is a game when, in fact, it is pure hard work, grit and determination at the highest levels globally.”

Limitless hardwork.

Our new learning platform, Cogito, is being deployed as a wonderful means to enable our students to perform even more practices outside of lesson time and to ensure that their understanding of the subject-matter and content reaches unprecedented levels. We consider this to be the ideal deployment of technology: technology that understands the social and cultural context and provides solutions to actual problems that our students face, not solutions in search of problems.

With the space that this technology opens up, we have done a careful redesign of our programme to engage our students and allow them to spend more time on the mechanics of certain aspects like writing, literary development and deconstruction, as well as creative development, without having to sacrifice the number of compositions written or the amount of work done. As Sherman Tseng, a former Vice-Principal with the MOE, explains,

“Writing is like learning a skill. You need to practice to learn how to play an instrument. Even pilots need to log a minimum number of flights in order to keep in touch with their skills. We are not reinventing the wheel here but finding new ways to implement old wisdom for the younger generation.” 

What we can do and what we don’t pretend to do.

In a time when the straight truth is more highly valued than ever, here is what we’re good at — and what we are not going to pretend to do.

First, the good. We’re great at pushing our students and getting them to do the work necessary to reach a higher level of achievement. This is part of our DNA. All of the centre directors are first and foremost very big on real work, because we are not afraid to do lots of work ourselves. We built systems around ourselves that reflect this ethos. And we don’t try to reduce our workload with a bunch of gobbledygook or hokey theories. We know there are no shortcuts and we are prepared to go down that road with our clients. If only hard work and indeed grunt work were not actually necessary for success, every wealthy persons’s child would be automatically set for life!

We are admittedly not so good at what we will call the “fun” aspects: because our own experience of life has been that work is quite simply work. Higher education is ultra-competitive; the corporate world is cut throat. Everyone does grunt work at some point in their lives to get to a level where they might plausibly be taken seriously. We know that nobody is going to try to make life fun for us down the road and we would rather help our students along the path to being intrinsically interested in their work, rather than extrinsically motivated. After all, this is precisely the type of elite school mentally our founder Mr Johann Loh has been surrounded by growing up in certain circles.

Moreover, oftentimes in education trying to put too much fun into the experience pushes out the rest of the challenging aspects: it makes it hard for us to manage expectations for students and, later on, sets us up for failure when we need to pivot to the grunt work that needs to be done. Just as Harvard Business School advises corporate leaders not to be the “fun” boss but to be the steady, if not always attention-grabbing, leader, so too we apply those insights into our conception of what the classroom experience needs to be like.

Finally, we like to work with serious teachers and teaching staff who know what they are doing; in our experience we’ve found that there is an inverse relationship between the qualities “fun” and “competent and responsible”. We’re realistic about what we can accomplish in a mere 2 hours a week: if we do all the gimmicks, we aren’t going to have enough time to do the legwork required to make actual progress. 

However, we should also point out that we are good at being ourselves and through this, making the learning experience interesting for those students who do want to learn. It’s part of our culture and we feel this enhances the quality of our teaching. And that is what we want our teachers to authentically bring to the table. We believe that when our teachers are able to be themselves in class, they do a better job taking a stake in the classes and making sure that they can focus on helping our students, instead of worrying about many other things tangential to the learning. That is not to say that we do not have expectations and guidelines: that is to say, however, that our priority is to ensure that your child is able to get as far along the learning curve as possible as a foremost priority.

Working with our parents: not a platitude, but a reality.

We believe we are aligned with the vast majority of our clients and parents on our approach. We do see ourselves working alongside our parents with us — if what they want is ultimately to achieve their academic goals and get through to certain institutions, organisations and programmes. That’s what we can do. We will work with our clients to achieve this aim and journey with you through thick and thin. In this regard, we believe that we offer the real deal: no platitudes and evidence-based results.

① Skills:

Skills are the hardest to train as they require practice. Anyone who claims to have a method for achieving skill sets without intensive practice is, quite frankly, full of hot air. We will work with our clients (a) to deconstruct all the steps required to improve these skills clearly and in a manner that is easy to apply, and (b) to give our students the chance to practice these skills through Academia and receive feedback. It is important for us that clients are aligned with us on this as we cannot promise to create skills out of thin air or to motivate an extremely unmotivated child with gimmicks and other external inducements; this is counterproductive and not something we can responsibly promise.

② Content:

We will provide our students with all the content they need in order to not just fulfil their exam requirements but also excel in them. We do so without overly complicating the content or obfuscating; we also do so without using our content as a platform for self-branding and self-marketing. This content is for our students to learn from, be inspired by, or apply. After all, linguistic philosophers note that language already pre-exists any individual and that we are all, to a large extent, using each other’s words. Most of the best writers began by using the words of others before they were able to come up with their own.

③ Knowledge:

We will impart an in-depth knowledge of the subject-matter, including technical knowledge such as grammar and vocabulary, as well as exam-specific knowledge. In addition, we will begin laying the groundwork for what lies ahead so that there is never a point at which our students suddenly find themselves unable to cope — so long as they have been in our system.

It is this plan for action that, for many clients, began at a very early age. Many of our students who scored A* previously had been with us for the long-term and were able to sail smoothly through PSLE and into Sec 1 without too much hassle. In a year where clients are understandably anxious about the future and where there are many known unknowns but also unknown unknowns, we hope this Academic Map to AL1 — and more generally, these insights into our programme and philosophy — provides you with reassurance.


Your Cogito Accounts

You will find that not only are you enrolled in the class you have registered for, but also the general Cogito course where there is a growing wealth of drills and quizzes.

General Cogito Courses

For L012 Stus: Foundation PSLE Prep course
For L345 Stus: Global Vocabulary 101 course 

We urge you to make use of the supplementary quizzes and drills that have been uploaded to these general Cogito courses, where new ones are still being developed and uploaded too.

Help us be better:

We have also done up a Data Collection Survey in each of the general Cogito courses to help us better understand the areas you wish to receive more help in. You will be able to find this under "Announcements" in the course.

If you are unsure about your login details, please do not hesitate to contact us via our official Cogito Front Desk channels:

WhatsApp: +65 9777 3532

Email: learn@academia.com.sg

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