Taking an unusual study route


Soh (centre) encourages Ava (left) and Dylan to take on projects outside school as he wants them to be creative individuals. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

WHILE his classmates at Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) were deciding between the junior college and polytechnic route after completing their O levels last December, Dylan Soh decided to take the path less travelled and headed to Finland.

Now, having spent the last six months in the Etela Tapiolan lukio, an international high school in Espoo where lessons are taught in English and Finnish, the 16-year-old says he has no regrets for having taken the unusual route.

The articulate boy, who will start on his International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma course in the same school next month, explained why he headed to Finland, encouraged by his dad Calvin Soh, 51, an adman turned farmer and product innovator.

The chatty teenager gave a TEDx talk - a showcase for speakers to present ideas in under 18 minutes - at a Finnish embassy event when he was in Secondary 2.

There, he got to meet Peter Vesterbacka, the chief marketing officer of Rovio Entertainment, the gaming company behind the popular Angry Birds game. And instead of a cash payment for his talk, he landed an internship with Vesterbacka’s company.

His father joined him in Finland towards the end of his internship, and they toured some Finnish schools.

“At the end of it, we were both impressed with how the schools there were focused on preparing students for life, not exams.

“So, when Dylan said he wouldn’t mind going there for his pre-university, I thought why not, ” said Soh.

His yearly fees are about S$15, 000 (RM46, 050) and it will add up to S$30, 000 (RM92, 100) for two years of his IB course.

Soh, who entered the advertising industry without a degree, feels strongly that it is skills such as being able to collaborate, work in teams and communicate that will matter in the future when workers have to constantly reinvent themselves as they take on different careers.

Asked if he worries about whether his son will make it to university, he said he would prefer his son go out to work before degree studies.

“Dylan wasn’t an A student to begin with. In fact, his teachers used to tell me that he must do better in some of his subjects, including maths.

“But it didn’t worry me, because I know his strengths lie elsewhere and I hoped studying in a different system and being on his own will build on his other strengths, ” he said.

Over the years, Dylan has helped to write and illustrate a book, The Big Red Dot, about self-discovery and self-belief and then marketed it at events. He has also invented a plant-watering device and made unofficial T-shirts for the Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un summit in Singapore last year.

Dylan admits he had to get used to the sub-zero temperatures and having to fend for himself while away from his family. He stays with an elderly Finnish couple.

But he is enjoying his lessons.

“I had studied about the Cuban missile crisis before, but it was mostly Powerpoint and talk.

“But in my Finnish school, we were asked to take on roles, whether as the American or Soviet or Cuban leaders, and the whole lesson came alive. You get to understand the issues in depth, ” he added.

Soh, having spent years heading advertising agencies in Singapore and abroad, said “creativity is the new superpower”.

“That’s something that I hope my son and daughter will develop. That’s why I insist on both my kids taking on projects outside of school, ” said Soh.

Ava, Dylan’s 13-year-old sister who has an interest in fashion, has designed comfy pants based on Thai fishermen pants, with her mum Arlette Tan’s help.

The SJI International School student said: “It does take away time with my friends, but I have learnt a lot, such as having to think about the kind of materials I should use, sourcing for them, and even pricing them, taking into account the number of hours I put into making every pair of pants.”

She has sold several pairs and is now designing jewellery inspired by her grandmother’s kueh belanda, or love letter, moulds.

Dylan, meanwhile, is focused on getting the most out of his two years in Finland.

“I feel that if you enjoy school, you will do well. And I am enjoying school and as a result am doing better in my studies, even in maths.” - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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