Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself. ~ John Dewey (American Philosopher, 1859-1952)
It was rather late in the evening when we finally had the chance to plonk ourselves down on the sofa. Our daughter came prancing from her bedroom, full of energy and enthusiasm, eagerly wanting to show us something. As much as we want to hold our ideals of being attentive parents, it has been a rather long day at work and honestly we were not too eager to listen to one of her ramblings about what had happened in the day. But, alas it wasn’t that.
She had brought along her TLL folder and excitedly exclaimed, “Mummy, Daddy, look!” She promptly showed us what she had worked on from her first lesson at The Learning Lab (TLL). As she excitedly (you know, the type with high pitched voice going at lightning pace) told us what transpired in class, we glanced through the materials in her TLL folder and our interest was piqued.
As working parents with no extended home support, we send our daughter for some form of enrichment, to keep her gainfully occupied. We had long accepted the compromise that selective enrichment classes would do more good than keeping her at home to vegetate in front of the TV or Ipad. Looking at the TLL materials in our hands, we could feel the first tangible difference – the articles and worksheets were printed on premium quality paper. The printout, though in monochrome, were crisp clear accompanied by high-resolution photos. The formatting was done in clean, well-spaced layout. It looked more like a professional office document than a children’s worksheet but our daughter was very much enthused by the weekly tasks assigned by the TLL teacher.
We probed a little more about her lessons and she was all too glad to share her feedback of TLL. She likes the lessons because the contents were interesting, ‘different’ from what they learn in school (in her own words). For example, she was exposed to poetry based on ‘Great Authors, Great Books’ theme in the 1st two lessons. Added to that, she was given authentic writing tasks to apply the skills that she’s been taught (week 1 she had to write a journal entry; week 2 she had to give an oral presentation and week 3, compose a poem using similes!). We are heartened that she enjoyed tackling these challenging tasks which will stretch her linguistic abilities. She also found the teacher kind and approachable, giving her adequate attention. When she makes a mistake, the teacher patiently explains to her where she has gone wrong. She also loved that role-plays and discussions were employed in class, making it fun and interactive. After dismissal, she enjoys browsing the 20,000 book titles at the in-house library set up exclusively for TLL students to complement their learning.
As the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. If our daughter’s response to her first few TLL lessons are anything to go by, it would seem that we are seeing the impact of TLL’s unique pedagogical approaches right from the start, much earlier than we had anticipated.
The Learning Lab began merely 14 years ago and operated from a single outlet at Balmoral Plaza. 7 TLL students have been awarded the President’s Scholarship by Singapore’s Public Service Commission (PSC) since 2005. Several dozen have been awarded the PSC’s Overseas Merit Scholarship (Open), the Singapore Government Scholarship (Open) and the Overseas Merit Scholarship (Legal Services), as well as a plethora of private sector scholarships. Today, it extends its offering of its brand of education across Singapore with the opening of its 8th and latest branch at Westgate.
A week ago before the term started, we were invited for a media tour to get to know TLL a little better. These were what impressed us:
1) Calibrated Approach: The key for effective teaching to take place is to know the child’s learning needs before attemptting to plug the gaps. With that in mind, before a student is enrolled at TLL, she has to take a simple proficiency quiz. This is so that the teachers know the child’s ability at entry, identify her proficiency (or lack of) and then determine the pace of learning that would suit her best. It is not an ‘entry test’ but more for the school to know the child and calibrate their teaching approaches accordingly. Class sizes are kept small to ensure every student gets the teacher’s personalized attention.
2) Authentic, Real-World Learning: TLL uses real-life, global examples in their lessons. A team of 30 curriculum experts is in-charge of designing and refining the curriculum. Together with the teachers, they constantly tweak the content to reflect what is current and relevant to the young learners, making lessons authentic and stretching students to think beyond the ‘here and now’ to developing a global mind-set. From showing real-life videos to using biographies of successful individuals who beat the odds (e.g. Steve Jobs, Jack Ma etc.); age-appropriate examples (e.g. In Dana’s case, a cute pet animal which most young children could identify with) to evoke a sense of realism to galvanize their learning.
3) Critical Thinking: In line with its authentic real-world curriculum, TLL uses a critical thinking approach towards learning through class discussions, case studies analyses, mock interviews, debates and presentations. Such methods are cognizant of the demands of the VUCA (Volatile, Unpredictable, Challenging and Ambiguous) world our children is growing up in, imbuing in them the ability to ask the right questions rather than asking for the right answers.
4) From Classrooms to Boardrooms: All TLL classrooms are designed like boardrooms with students sitting around conference room tables and chairs. This creates a professional, corporate setting, encouraging students to rise-up and assume responsibility for their own learning. This is important as children from as young as N1 and N2 can be conditioned to behave according to the environment they are in. While running around in the playground is perfectly fine, doing so in a restaurant would be inappropriate. Once students start formal schooling, they are expected to behave appropriately in the classroom. This fundamental conditioning in behavior will set the right tone and mindsets for effective learning to take place.
5) Teacher Training: The teacher is the critical link between curriculum and student – TLL is all too aware of this reality. The TLL is curriculum is carefully crafted to get students excited about learning and attending lessons, ultimately developing genuine passion and interest in the subjects. Hence they invest a minimum of 200 hours in teacher training per teacher to ensure the curriculum is effectively implemented. The walls of the classrooms are transparent partly for senior teachers to observe the teachers’ classes and for sharing of best practices.
A country’s future lies in its children. To succeed in the face of global competition, our kids need to possess the right attributes and competencies to thrive – something that the TLL team is confident and capable of delivering. Because at TLL, they seek to prepare their students not just to be exam-smart but most importantly, to thrive in life and be future-ready.
We are as excited to embark on this TLL journey with our daughter. To see her so enthusiastic about her assignments and counting down each week to her next lesson is half the battle won, we shall wait to reap the harvest.
Update on Progress:
After a year with TLL, we have an update on our daughter’s academic progress. She surprised us (and herself) by doing exceedingly well in both her CA2 and SA2 papers. She also did very well in the ICAS Competitions administered by UNSW Australia, scoring distinction in Math and high distinction in English respectively. Beyond academic grades, what really encourage us is to see our daughter grow in confidence, enthusiasm and interest for the subjects which she previously thought she was ‘weak’ and ‘hopeless’ in. That to us, is more invaluable than merely acing her exams.
Don’t take our words for it, you too can stretch the potential of your kids. Whether it’s catching up with peers or improving your child’s score by one grade, it’s important to start early. Help your child prepare for school and give him or her an academic head start for 2017. The Learning Lab’s Term 1-2017 lessons begin on Wednesday, 7 December 2016.
You can find out more about TLL’s programmes here.
Disclaimer: This authentic review is brought to you in collaboration with TLL. All photos belong to TLL but the opinions expressed are, as usual, ours.