Anne Lim is looking to bring her locally-developed syllabus to the international market
WALKING down the corridors of Dwi Emas International School can be a different experience from other schools – the students don’t scatter out of sight when the teachers walk by.
Instead, this boisterous lot would call out to their teachers and complain if there were long school holidays.
This is the kind of school that Anne Lim wanted when she started Dwi Emas about two years ago.
Lim is the founder and group chief executive officer of Sirius International (M) Sdn Bhd, which owns and manages Dwi Emas and its sister school, Sri Emas International School.
Lim has been in the education industry for many years now. She had taught in private colleges for 10 years and was contented with being just a teacher.
However, an observation of the students who came into her class made her realise that she had to do more than just teach in classes.
“One of the greatest challenges I faced there was the kids were not ready for college education. Our purpose of educating is to get kids ready for the next step, for the real world. But there was a huge mismatch.
“It cannot be that the students study for 11 years and their (English) language skill is not strong enough. How can you learn a language for 11 years and not have the capacity to handle it at college level?” she questions.
This led her down the path of eventually running her own education group, where she could reshape the learning environment and craft a curriculum that would cater to students of different personalities and capabilities.
Lim decided to start her own private English classes in 1995 to help younger students master the language.
Five years into running her classes, it began to sink in for her that she was actually running a business of her own. But she didn’t quite know all the fundamentals of doing business and went about equipping herself with the right knowledge. She read books and attended courses.
She then had a bright idea – she could also teach her students what she was learning.
Lim thought it was important for students to know the basics of financial education and of running a business. She crafted a suitable curriculum and introduced it into her classes.
“They loved it!” she exclaims.
She saw that there was a need to teach this on a wider scale.
“When we saw the demand growing, we knew that we couldn’t continue with just this. We wanted to comply as a school. But we couldn’t, as teachers with no backing and background, do that financial leap from just offering English classes into a full-fledge school,” she shares.
So she started small. Lim opened a private tutoring centre about 10 years ago, which gave her more financial muscle to start the Sri Emas school in 2012.
Lim received offers from banking groups to invest in her school-building effort but she turned them down. She wanted to ensure that they did not give up the majority control over how the school would be run. However, she notes that the team had a lot of support from its partners – landlords who were willing to give them priority over more profitable tenants and friendly investors who were truly interested in transforming education.
“We bootstrap from our first school and rolled the profits over to start Dwi Emas. So we didn’t take in additional funding for this school,” she says.
Dwi Emas’ value proposition is its focus on teaching leadership and entrepreneurship through its curriculum.
“The issue, in most schools, is you have a selected few who are trained to become speakers. These are the good students. Everybody can boast about strong students. But we felt very strongly that good education must not only be confined to a selected few people.
“Leadership should not be only for the 20%, but for 100% of the student population. Nobody says my 100% cannot be part of the 20% out there in the real world.
“As an educator, our responsibility is to ensure that every kid that finishes their education must be able to contribute successfully out there in the working environment. Even if they end up as mechanics, they should still be able to engage people meaningfully.
“So from day one, we train all our students to do presentations, in creative writing, exploratory literature, financial education. We wanted the students to be ready by Form 5, for anything thrown at them. And what we realised, was that we were fixing the issue of moving the average kids forward,” says Lim.
Dwi Emas currently has about 400 students and parents, says Lim, have been happy with their children’s progress.
This has given Sirius International a proof of concept that its “buatan cikgu” effort can work.
Dwi Emas may be a fairly new player in the education scene, but Lim notes that it is already building up a fairly strong track record as an entrepreneurship-based school.
Sirius International won the Platinum award for Best Employer in the below RM25mil revenue category at The Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA) 2017. Lim also took home the Female Entrepreneur of the Year award in the same category.
Lim notes that getting a business award trumps that of getting an education award.
“I believe we got the award because we were the most innovative and we were going in the direction that the business world wants to see happen. That is why we were happy to get SOBA,” she says.
The group is already looking at plans beyond Malaysia. It is in serious talks with investment groups to bring its entrepreneurship-based curriculum to other countries under its ACE EdVenture brand.
According to Lim, it could see a first school in Tokyo by this September.
“There is already an existing school there, so it’s just plug-and-play. We just bring our programme in,” she says.
Over the next three years, the group is also eyeing the Hong Kong and Indonesian markets.
Lim hopes that its venture overseas will also assure parents in Malaysia of its quality.
“Sometimes, when parents hear that our kids are having fun, they think that we are reducing focus on academics. But that’s not true. We are merging everything in our classrooms. Our kids can learn, have fun and be happy at school,” she says.
The group will also add another two schools locally over the next three years.
Lim adds that the investors it is working with are people who are well aware of the need for change in the education space.
Lim also hopes its success will open doors for Dwi Emas to work with the local governments and other agencies to make a strong and lasting impact on education.
“Equitable education is about making sure all kids – whether they are elite, poor, or poor in terms of education – have all the tools to succeed.
“Why do we spend 11 years creating students who are not confident, unengaged, have no language skills and no soft skills, when we should be creating students that should be ready for the next level?” says Lim.