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From tuition centre to a million-dollar business

SINGAPORE — It started out as a tuition centre in 1992, with 10 students occupying a two-room shop unit in Serangoon. Now, some two decades later, home-grown private education provider IDY Academy has made forays into Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia and is setting its sights on China next.

From tuition centre to a million-dollar business

Mdm Ong estimates that her business has grown by about 20% in the last three years, and five-fold since it first started in 1992. Photo: Don Wong

SINGAPORE — It started out as a tuition centre in 1992, with 10 students occupying a two-room shop unit in Serangoon. Now, some two decades later, home-grown private education provider IDY Academy has made forays into Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia and is setting its sights on China next.

While the strong demand here for tuition and enrichment courses — particularly from foreign students hungry to succeed in Singapore’s education system — was the main driver behind the private school’s success so far, it is hoping to export the Republic’s brand overseas for its next stage of expansion.

Since April, the school has signed memorandums of understanding with the three neighbouring countries to provide courses not only for children, but for teachers as well.

Noting that most private schools had opted for the United Kingdom or United States curriculum model when setting up shop abroad, the academy’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer S H Ong believes that Singapore’s framework, which mixes creativity and critical thinking, will develop children more holistically.

“For other private schools overseas, it’s very much about just teaching the curriculum, but what we are thinking of doing is a Singapore-style, holistic education, with the use of information technology, project work and discussions,” said Mdm Ong, adding that her school will be venturing into China later this year.

In Cambodia, for example, the academy will set up an international school that provides pre-school to secondary school education based on the Singapore curriculum.

The teacher training which will be done in the country and Vietnam will be similar to how the National Institute of Education trains teachers here, Mdm Ong said.

Currently, the school — which was registered with the Council for Private Education in 2010 — has two campuses: In Mount Vernon and Lavender.

Together, the campuses can house more than 400 students. The academy employs more than 60 teachers, all of whom have at least a bachelor’s degree and about a fifth are former teachers in Singapore’s public schools.

Apart from providing full-time preparatory courses mainly targeted at foreign students who wish to enter Singapore schools, the academy also offers tuition and enrichment courses for students all the way from Primary 1 to tertiary institutions. The bulk of its revenue (80 per cent) comes from the latter.

The academy’s growth may be testament to how lucrative the tuition and enrichment industry here can be but Mdm Ong is quick to stress that the reason for her school’s success is its emphasis on holistic education, and not just on academic studies. For example, it runs workshops for students, parents and teachers on a range of topics, including leadership, confidence and speech writing.

The school has an annual turnover of about S$1 million. Mdm Ong estimated that her business has grown by about 20 per cent in the last three years, and five-fold since 1992.

Recounting the academy’s humble beginnings, Mdm Ong recalled that a few years after she set up her tuition centre, she started receiving requests from parents and students to expand her business, beyond offering tuition.

In 1995, the centre became a private school after Mdm Ong obtained the relevant licence and it started taking in foreign students.

With the prevalence of tuition and enrichment services here a perennial national talking point — it was most recently raised in Parliament earlier last month — Mdm Ong reiterated that these complement, and not supplant, what teachers are teaching in the mainstream schools.

Adding that tuition is a phenomenon “everywhere from America to South Korea”, Mdm Ong said: “I would advise parents to adjust their expectations as tuition is only meant to fill gaps in learning and cannot replace what children pick up in school.”

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