A letter from our Managing Director, Johann Loh.
I think it is no exaggeration to say that 2021 turned out to be a watershed year on so many levels. In hindsight, I think it is appropriate to be candid and say that it was a year full of challenges for all of us. It is not a platitude for me to say that the one thing that kept us going was: knowing that we were making a difference in your child’s lives and education. Education is at the heart of all we do, and it was a guiding light and principle that kept us going this year despite the things we could not control.
This is why I am especially proud of the fact that we were able not only to keep abreast of our day-to-day goals, but also continued to change our curriculum in several respects. A few select highlights include:
- Exploring the PSLE topic of “A Promise” thoroughly in our curriculum, including a classic short story and a creative comprehension piece
- Developing new PSLE mocks that were updated and aligned with the latest trends in the syllabus, including creative application of grammar rules, data analysis, authenticity in expression, and reading between the lines for more literary questions
- Developing innovative curriculum and scaffolding for the increasingly personalised O level question types, including Personal Expository, Personal Descriptives and other hybrid models to align with the increasingly personal and expressive nature of the curriculum
- Covering specific topics that came out for this year’s GP examination in particular: The Arts, Sports, Media and Truth, Films
Cogito: Supporting You Throughout 2021
We were able to seamlessly transition between on-campus and online lessons whenever restrictions were tightened or loosened. Our philosophy is that technological innovation should be invisible to the end-user: the best proof that Cogito was able to support your child was that learning was smooth, transitions were as seamless as possible, and ultimately, that your child managed to perform and show improvements in a year of disruptions.
As we move into 2022, we promise that we will continue to use Cogito for this purpose: not as a marketing gimmick or to jump on the bandwagon of digitalisation, but to genuinely find ways to improve and enhance the learning experience for our students. We are still learning how to best deploy technology on our end and will continue to pursue various efforts to make Cogito even more user-friendly.
The Great Dilemma: On-campus vs Online Lessons
As far as possible, we want to offer the solution that works best for each student. By this point, it is abundantly clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for every child. Our aim is to offer as much choice as possible, where possible.
As we move into 2022, we’ve developed a clear strategy for ensuring compliance with all Government regulations, whether explicit or implicit, while also making sure that there is a solution that works for our students, teachers and employees. These decisions are often not in our hands even as we recognise the paramount importance of being good, socially responsible citizens. If we ever need to transition online, we will ensure that learning continues to take place — just as we did this year.
We are grateful that you have gone along with us on this journey and hope that you also saw the benefits and growth in your child this year.
The New Paradigm: A Globalised Standard
We’ve closely tracked the transformations in the Singapore curriculum and matched these trends with globalised ones to ensure that we are always keeping our students ahead of the curve. Here are three big trends that will continue to shape how we design and enhance our curriculum:
1. Building actual literacy. Real literacy in English involves a plethora of skills that can be applied in a variety of contexts. We try to avoid over-theorising, especially at the L01 level, which is counterproductive, and instead focus on real and active skills in reading, writing and speaking. These trends can be observed in how our components continue to evolve, and is also in line with the dominant ideology in the international education market.
How we are evolving to meet this trend: Our L0 and L1 curriculum has been moving towards a focus on building literacy in reading, writing and speaking. Even traditional drills must be realigned to emphasise understanding over repetition, as question formats deliberately employ a variety of strategies to test real literacy.
2. Creative self-expression, but bounded. The threshold for more creative self-expression is actually expanding slightly, with increasing consensus that some degree of creativity and uniqueness is desirable and worth rewarding even in examination conditions, especially for more literary or less structured forms of writing including composition, narratives, and personalised forms of narratives, descriptives and even argumentative.
How we are evolving to meet this trend: We are focusing on building the tools and skills for students to adapt to this slightly modified paradigm while recognising that the creativity involved here is still bounded creativity — it is creativity that entails certain unspoken conceptual restrictions and limitations. Our students are shown the ways in which they can acceptably venture outside of the box, but not too far beyond.
3. Analytical skills. Using English as the primary mode of performing various types of analysis is increasingly important, with analysis becoming increasingly self-aware and self-reflexive. Effects of language, authorial intent and even just parsing the meaning of various expressions are increasingly flowing down to the lower levels.
How we are evolving to meet this trend: In our curriculum, analysis starts from the earliest ages, allowing our students to become comfortable with interpretation and reading between the lines early on.
Practical Considerations: Curricular & Departmental Transition Management
Since the start of COVID-19 in February-March 2020, we recognised that our own curriculum and pedagogy would have to evolve to meet not just the challenges of flexible learning but also of the brand new world we knew we were heading into. At this stage, I feel it would be a good time to reveal that behind the scenes, I have led the L1 and L2 curriculum through a deliberate process of evolution for the past 2 years. In sync with these transformations, the latest evolution in our L0 curriculum is now being led by Ms Christina Sum. Our long-term clients will have noticed how our L012 curriculum evolved over last year and this year, through what we internally designated our “Postmodern Phase” that combines the best elements reconstructed and recombined from varying syllabi. The pace of pedagogical innovations seen across these departments in 2021 will continue unabated in 2022.
For L3 and L4, the diversity of the curriculum and streams across schools and systems led us to create a highly-differentiated syllabus that would fulfil requirements across the board. Moving into the next year, we will be able to further differentiate between specific programmes and would advise our students to enter a department that is specifically tailored to your needs. Our strong IP and O teams use UX/UI thinking to transform their own expertise into clear, designed structures that our students can follow, with each worksheet and lesson representing a learning experience that is also a node in the complex network of their knowledge.
We were heartened this year that our Literature programme was extremely popular, to the point where it is currently oversubscribed. Literature has always been a passion project as the work for it is extremely labour-intensive, requiring substantive and analytical work on each individual text. This explains why we have an extremely limited number of slots for Literature and why the courses are always oversubscribed. In 2022, Literature will be its own full-fledged department with its own course and fee structure, completely separate from our English department. In the meanwhile, we will continue to incorporate some literary analysis into our L3 curriculum in recognition of the fact that Literature is an essential subject in lower secondary and part of many Integrated Programmes.
Our L5 General Paper programme has swelled in size this year to become one of the most significant GP programmes in Singapore. Our programme began with a belief that there was a space for a GP programme that focused primarily on analytic skills, essay writing and individualised feedback, rather than mass lectures. This approach is part of our DNA and is the end-point from which we develop our 6-year IP syllabus.
Hard Choices: A Conversation on Superstructural Social and Economic Transitions
Singapore is a developed country with social transformations that are taking place and accelerating due to digitalisation and digital culture. At the same time, the cost of living is increasing, employees must be given a seat at the table, and increased awareness of the overall social and economic superstructure is a given especially among the younger generations.
The Academia Collective is an effort that also began last year and has now begun to bear limited fruit a year later, involving empowering teachers and non-teaching staff as active stakeholders in our company while attempting to manage diversity and culture through collective responsibility rather than a top-down approach. This cultural change is still a work in progress, but we believe that it represents a solution and a path forward to some of the challenges that many in the education industry face — challenges that all are surely aware of. It is a vision that still requires onboarding and alignment, but we believe that it will ultimately benefit our clients because the morale of our teachers and employees has a clear and direct impact on your child’s learning experience.
We are also implementing changes to our fee structures next year which are aligned with continuing to deliver quality service. This year, we have found many of our classes oversubscribed. Rather than continually grow our numbers and class sizes, we realised also that many of our teachers were beginning to express concerns about being burnt out, of being overstretched and not being able to sustain the quality of lessons should we focus on growing our student numbers indefinitely.
Therefore, we came to a consensus to focus on quality rather than quantity. We are readjusting most of our class sizes to accommodate only 6 to 8 students, depending on the levels, teachers and other class metrics. Preliminarily, we know this has already created significant and substantial waitlists for our classes next year and we apologise for the stress these waitlists may have caused. Our plan was to allocate these slots as rationally and fairly as possible, keeping in mind that we have always had limited resources and limitations on the number of factors we can take into account in the process of this allocation. As always, the slots for 2022 will be allocated on a relatively tabula rasa or blank-slate basis, with greater consideration given to existing clients who are able to commit by securing slots through upfront payment of fees.
To contextualise further, the changes to our fee structure are a reflection of this commitment: a commitment to quality over endless growth in student numbers, to sustaining our teachers and their passion and dedication, and frankly, to avoid having to go down the path of mass-market commercialisation. They also reflect the realities of significant inflation, substantial increases in the cost of living, and the increasing costs of various forms of regulatory compliance, all of which will no longer be subsidised next year. You have our promise that these fee increases are beneficial and do not end up lining the pockets of a hidden corporate class; rather, they reflect the economic value of the labour, including emotional labour, of those who work directly with your children.
I hope this transparency allows you to understand the path that The Academia Collective has chosen to go down, so that we can continue to do what we do best: take care of your children’s needs. We’re looking forward to 2022 and hope you have a blessed break with your families this year-end!