Welcome back to an all-new Head’s Up. For this issue, I had the privilege of chatting with Kenneth Chai, the Co-Founder of The Learning Curve (TLC), a STEM based social enterprise committed to make a change in the education scene not just in Sarawak but also nationwide.
We spoke on what inspired him to get started, education poverty in Malaysia, separating politicians from the political office, and a new take on educating Malaysia’s next generations.
But just before you go, here are some news and announcements.
A One-stop Platform For Malaysian Startup Data, Resources, News and Insights.
Muru-ku is a one-stop platform for Malaysian startup data, resources, news and insights. The platform contains more than 660 Malaysian Startups and is a platform filled with resources such as The VC List, Grant List, Startup Events & Problem Statements to solve.
Visit https://muru-ku.com to learn more and submit your startup if it’s not already listed.
MMU Inks Agreement With MaGIC To Develop First High-Tech Education Sandbox
Multimedia University (MMU) has inked an agreement with Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), the lead secretariat of the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) to pave the way for the high-tech education sandbox.
The sandbox will be focusing on the solutions that can contribute to improving the effectiveness of teaching and learning pedagogies in hybrid-mode as well as preparing a highly competent and productive workforce with strong leadership and critical thinking hands-on technological skills
Malaysia Insurtech Opportunity Report 2021
Explore the ever-evolving dynamics of Malaysia’s insurance industry in the Malaysia Insurtech Opportunity Report 2021. This report is proudly produced by 1337 Ventures. Sponsored by FWD Insurance, and supported by the FinTech Malaysia (FAOM).
Discover key trends, opportunities, consumer behaviours, Takaful and more. Download the report now https://lnkd.in/gK9cUdbS
Interview with Kenneth Chai, Co-Founder of The Learning Curve
He is a voice to be reckoned with on Twitter. With over 13,000 followers on the platform, he has taken on heaty conversations on politics, public policies and science and he’s certainly not shy to let you know he’s ready for a debate or two. But beyond his tweets, he is a man with bright ideas and big plans for the future of our education.
I speak to Kenneth Chai, Co-founder of The Learning Curve (TLC), Kuching’s first STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Mathematics) social enterprise on what inspired him to get started, education poverty in Malaysia, separating politicians from the political office, and a new take on educating Malaysia’s next leaders.
Kenneth or more commonly known as Ken, founded TLC in 2017 with two other co-founders, Jasmine Sia and Kelly Ho. Stemming out of his passion for science, TLC is meant to be the platform to offer new takes on science lessons and classes.
“Only until a later age I managed to discover my passion for Science and it was all thanks to meeting the right person who helped me develop the liking for it. I was given the opportunity re-stablish my relationship with the subject and I believe that everyone should have that opportunity as well,” he says, on the inspiration behind of setting up TLC.
“It’s all about the hook”
Like many of us who have undergone the Malaysian education system, we are somewhat forced to look at education as a means of preparing for one exam after another. For Ken, that is certainly not a healthy way of consuming knowledge.
Ken and his co-founders are trying to change the decades old dilemma via TLC by getting students’ interests in STEM subjects piqued through storytelling and in some case, relating the matter at hand to an anthropological origin.
A usual day of class at TLC may find students hooked onto a story about the science behind using silver to kill werewolves. On another day, it just might be on using other pop cultural myths to explain a class.
“It’s all about hooking them in. Once we got started, in the ensuing classes, students looked forward to the new things we bring into these lessons. It might just about how bombs are created, or why silver bullets kill werewolves. Either way, these methods work, and students have learnt to love these subjects with passion rather than dismiss them due to the difficulty of understanding,” he says.
And how does he come up with new ways of keeping every lesson exciting?
“Sometimes it just happens in the shower, but most of the time, it happens during a show that I am watching or when I am reading. I have two kids myself and their curious minds has kept me on my toes. This has also forced me into putting myself in their shoes.
“How will I explain something that is simple but interesting enough to get them to understand? It’s all about the hook. That’s how we humans pay attention and that’s how my students have grown more interested in the STEM subjects I teach them.”
Growth and Uncertainty
Having established the social enterprise since 2017, it all began with coding classes in his living room and eventually growing with enough resources to set up an office of their own. While it has been a roller coaster ride for the team over the years, Ken says it is the nature of being in the business.
In his case however, there were no competitors who were doing what he did and comparing growth for milestones was no easy feat. While they grew from a team of 3 into 5 and with an initial class of 10 students, TLC went on to have 7 schools added into their roster.
“We are not under the Ministry of Education so we can only sign contracts with private schools but for public schools, we started running workshops and holiday camps. We even have a test site in Kota Damansara now,” he says.
While growth had been steady for years, the pandemic changed it all. Under the Movement Control Order (MCO), schools were closed for months, and classes shifted into online spaces, mainly on Google Meet and Zoom.
Education Has To Be Multidimensional
From the STEM perspective, Ken says he was not fully keen on digital teaching as it took away a lot of hands-on teaching that was required to effectively engage with his students. However, circumstances gave him no choice but to pivot online, and even as the transition took place, Ken knew that without proper interaction, it was only sessions of video calls that may or may not have proven beneficial for students.
“Education has to be multidimensional. There are just some things you cannot get via online teaching,” he says.
Despite having moved into a more hybrid arrangement, TLC were one of the early ones to have reopened in April when the situation on-ground started easing.
“We renovated our space to cater to the SOPs, engaged with local authorities for proper inspections and ensured the safety of our students were the highest priority,” he says.
Ken highlights that there are still classes that are strictly online and to ensure these are done effectively, TLC is working with Microsoft utilise their education edition of Minecraft. Students each received a free account, and this allowed them to mix both fun and work together.
“The platform provided us with the interaction we were looking for. Students can still play and complete in-game missions but at the same time, when the bell rings, they are all back in the virtual classroom. Compared to just having them switch their cameras on and listen to me speak virtually this provided them with a more hollistic online school experience,” he shares.
Addressing The Gaps
With presence in both Kuching and KL, TLC has tailormade their courses and direction according to the locations they are operate in. In Kuching, access to electricity and infrastructure is still lacking while in urban areas, it’s about parents who may not be at home with their kids during school holidays.
Access to STEM, he says, is not equal and the gaps are disappointingly still significant. “We have students who have the privilege of going back home to a telescope while others still struggle to get themselves a calculator,” he says.
“It’s sad to say we are still addressing this in 2021, but there is an education poverty and it differs from one state to another,” he adds.
To better understand the needs of these communities, the team at TLC sits down with political offices in different areas and gets to better understand the problems the communities face. This has enabled them to go beyond just finding ways of offering free education for the kids, but also integrate awareness of tackling these issues into their models.
Ken tells Head’s Up that during trips to these areas, they address a range of issues. These include sexual violence, domestic abuse, nutrition, drugs, health issues and even cyber bullying.
TLC has worked not only with government representatives but also with private players such as Mah Sing and Taylor’s University to reach out to more communities. While he has engaged with political offices, he acknowledges that it is important to separate the politician from the political office.
“The teams we meet on the ground understands the problems at hand and while some politicians do understand the severity of these issues, in some cases unfortunately, it boils down to them to decide on which social issue works best to capture votes,” Ken tells Head’s Up.
However, if their objectives align, and both sides are committed to help the people, TLC is more than willing to keep fighting the good fight.
What The Future Holds
“I think the pandemic and the MCO has provided some long overdue changes, particularly when it comes to digitalisation. A lot of schools now have laptop and in these two years, the Sarawak state government has been providing laptops to schools and families to ensure education goes on.
“We are keen to keep the hybrid programmes going and we are planning to have programmes that focus on gamifying education in the coming year. We will have a programme called, ‘SPACE’, where students will be able to experience a full simulation of physics and maths,” he says.
He is, however, relieved there will not be any full-blown events as the budget utilised for events will now be used towards effective learning. Moving forward he says, benefactors will have a genuine expectation of online events and it will prove to be more beneficial and effective for TLC and their students.
“This will help ensure access to education is equally distributed without having money pointlessly invested into grand sound systems and inviting VIPs for selfies,” he concludes.
Whether it’s a feedback or if you would like to work with us in putting your story out there, reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org