The ancient African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” has long been popularly quoted when evaluating the partnerships required for ensuring the proper and holistic development of a child – and one man thinks this ‘ village’ has never been more
Jaspal Sidhu: The Man Who’s Redefining The Boundaries of World- Class Education
Twenty-eight years ago, a Singaporean engineer came to Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, with the hope of trying his luck in a new field. Never did he imagine he would be as passionate as he is right now in the big and challenging world of education – until he noticed the country’s alarming shortage of goodquality education. Jaspal Sidhu, founder and chief executive officer of the SIS Group of Schools took to heart the responsibility of providing worldclass-quality education not only for the elite, the expats and high-income families in the country, but for practically everyone who wants it. Sidhu was initially disappointed that while there was a good number of private schools that provided high-quality education in Indonesia, the average school fees across these top institutions was slated at more than US$20,000 a year. It didn’t take the Singaporean socio-entrepreneur too long to realize what he needed to do: he was going to provide sustainable, good-quality education and have the social responsibility to make it accessible to as many income levels as possible – a philosophy he made sure was ingrained in all the schools within the group, including Singapore Intercultural School Bona Vista (SIS BV). Fast forward nearly three decades, SIS BV now ranks as one of the best schools in the region. Sidhu attributes this rapid progress to three key elements: First, and most importantly, is the school’s use of the Singapore Curriculum, which has long been recognized as one of the best educational systems worldwide. Sidhu claims this is evident from the Programme for International Student Assessment ( PISA) testing by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as well as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study ( TIMSS) test. PISA and TIMSS are recognized worldwide as nuanced metrics for academic success. Students who generally achieve high PISA and TIMSS test results are often those from Singapore schools. Second, SIS education is largely focused on the PACE philosophy, which stands for perseverance, analytical thinking, collaboration and communication and entrepreneurship. Sidhu claims that every teacher, staff member and employee in the school has to ensure that PACE is injected into every aspect of the system. Third, SIS understands that the solution to having top-notch education is to have excellent and passionate teachers who hone their skills and strengths in the profession through constant exposure. The school has established firm partnerships with both public and private academic institutions to provide speedy and high-quality training for their teachers. As SIS claims to provide world-class education centred on its core philosophy and powered by funding from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation ( IFC), the CEO now must look to uphold his original vision of making SIS accessible to families of all income levels. After building its first SIS campus in South Jakarta that remarkably halved the average school rates for long established international schools in the archipelago to US$10,000, Sidhu went on to build more schools that yet again halved the costs to US$6,000 this time in other parts of Jakarta, Medan and Semarang. In Palembang, South Sumatra, a SIS campus charges a meager $1,800 in school fees for the entire school year. And all these schools are producing top quality students. SIS claims to be the only international school in the Southeast Asian region that provides two intakes, one for those who want to pursue higher education in the Southern Hemisphere ( January to December) and one for those wishing to pursue higher studies in the Northern Hemisphere (August to July). “The bigger opportunities lie outside Jakarta,” the CEO explained. “Jakarta has long been saturated with schools, [most of which] are way beyond the financial capacity of those from the regions.” Sidhu added that bringing good-quality education outside the city will considerably improve access to further education and ensure equal opportunities for residents in those regions, both foreigners and locals alike. This year, the IFC ( World Bank Group) approved another round of substantial financing facility expansion to the SIS group, a leverage point that Sidhu believes gives his brainchild a bullish advantage in the market. “[ IFC] does not have second thoughts about partnering with us because it is confident with our mission; the good governance to ‘scale’ that we have put in place has never been replicated anywhere else.” The SIS BV CEO stressed the system’s strong belief in the power of the human
capital and the need to diligently provide professional development across their organisation. Sidhu personally believes that providing constructive channels for feedback is an efficient method to ensure professional growth. In SIS, parents are able to criticize teachers, while teachers are able to survey the administration or leaders. Students can also provide feedback on their teachers and their methodologies. “Hiring the right teachers for the school is a big challenge . . . [so] we work closely with colleges and universities that provide excellent foundation on ‘teacher training,’ which helps us identify potential and passionate individuals whom we offer internships for . . . [and] prepare them for the real SIS work,” the SIS chief executive stated. In line with its philosophy that emphasizes promoting accessibility to high-standard education, the school recently launched a new initiative called ‘SIS for Indonesia’ or SISI. The programme aims to have SIS Schools partner with progressive companies across the country and work on mutual agreements that will enable middle-ranking employees send their children to SIS. A son of a humble doorman, the young Sidhu did not understand why his father never appreciated him working in the construction and mining sector. “You will not be able to change the world building bridges, roads and skyscrapers. Help children go to school so there will be less and less of these kids who will have doorman fathers who die poor,” his father advised him. The idea stuck to the now- CEO of one of the country’s biggest chain of schools who has made it a personal vow to help everyone – regardless of his nationality, gender, economic status and race – get the rightful quality education he so deserves. Sidhu feels blessed to have a great support system, solid community partners, great working relationship with regulatory bodies and a working philosophy that has pushed him to be more passionate about his promise. He takes pride in helping build that ‘village’ that provides the right tools that help kids grow healthy and safe and ready for life beyond their childhood. And with the myriad of opportunities and challenges that today’s children are faced with, the SIS village welcomes everyone and is determined to build a better future for the younger generation.