Ex Naval Officer Gives Up 5-digit Salary to Kickstart Maker Education

Ex Naval Officer Gives Up 5-digit Salary to Kickstart Maker Education

My name is Chee Wee. I’m an ex-naval officer, father of two boys aged 7 and 10, an engineer by training and a tinkerer at heart. In 2017, I co-founded an enrichment center called “MAKE” and created a curriculum-aligned, hands-on maker enrichment program for 7-12 year-olds.

I had given 19 good years to defending Singapore’s waters and was looking to further contribute to nation-building differently. At the same time like many parents, I was not convinced that formal schooling would sufficiently prepare my boys for their future. I started to design hands-on, interactive activities for them and realized that it could be further developed into an entire programme. My cousin and partner, Jun Hui, had also been teaching for many years and wanted to create something on his own. We met and shared ideas, and the next thing we knew, “MAKE” was born.

MAKE’s vision is summarized in its slogan – Learn, Create, Problem-Solve. Our programmes are designed to nurture creative problem-solving competencies in young minds so that they can progress beyond theoretically knowing something, to practice doing something with that knowledge. A revolutionary 3-stage learning model takes kids through academic reinforcement (REFRESH), knowledge application (MAKE) and finally problem-solving challenges (SOLVE).

Many students struggle in school because they cannot see the purpose of learning. Frequent focus on tests and grades also distract from the true purpose of education – to equip children with knowledge and skills to better their lives and those of others. Through MAKE’s hands-on projects, kids see academic theories come to life, and as a result, they often develop a deeper understanding of the subjects. We see them honing higher-order motor skills through a progressive introduction of tools and techniques. By design, the physical making processes also allow room for mistakes, and for trying again until they get it right. These repeated experiences of failing and not giving up, build in our students a strong sense of resilience. It gives them confidence and the belief that nothing is too complicated, as long they do not quit halfway.

Beyond skills, “MAKE” programmes also feature character traits that we believe are paramount to producing responsible and civic-minded members of society. We have a policy of rewarding curiosity in class and conduct regular “Moments of Gratitude” to inculcate a sense of thankfulness in children. This holds particular pertinence in an affluent nation like Singapore, where such meaningful exercises act as safeguards against complacency and a sense of entitlement.

Another distinction to conventional enrichment is how our programmes integrate both Mathematics and Science subjects in a revolutionary way for students to grow cross-disciplinary mindsets. The real world is multi-disciplinary, so we coach our students in the same vein, so they become more adept at applying their know-how in addressing real-world issues. The SOLVE. Sessions also teach children collaborative skills such as group communication and conflict resolution. Being focused on objectives rather than methods, and the fact that there are no “model answers” also let children understand that every problem can have multiple solutions. It allows the free exploration of creativity and imagination while grounding children in their focus to attain specific objectives.

Outside the classroom, we plan excursions every six months to bring students out of the classroom and into a real-world learning environment. Destinations include technology and engineering companies where children witness the marvel of modern science and applied mathematics.

Group photo before excursion to Hope Technik in Dec 2017

Group photo before excursion to Hope Technik in Dec 2017

Since “MAKE” opened its doors in Oct 2017, we have been encouraged by a fantastic response from like-minded and supportive parents. We went for our first exhibition outing and were humbled by double-digit sign-ups in just three days. Currently, all our weekend classes are enrolled, and we see constant growth through word-of-mouth referrals and online inquiries. We also see an interesting cross-section of students – those that seek academic improvements through experiential involvement, and others that are already excelling in school but would like to complement their intellect with hands-on, problem-solving skills. Many parents tell us that their children look forward to “MAKE” classes the most all week, and it is most satisfying to see the smiles on their faces after the completion of each project.

Apart from our regular programmes, we also launched industry-first Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses such as 3D Printing for Kids. These were so popular that we even had students from China attending them on educational tours! It was a great affirmation to the quality of our program, and that it has appeal even beyond Singapore’s shores.

Students from Shandong, China attending the 3D Printing for Kids course

Students from Shandong, China attending the 3D Printing for Kids course

Our early success has certainly not gone unnoticed. We have received some investment interest lately, and if all goes well, we could be expanding quite soon. There were some students we had to turn down previously from the East and West, so we hope to be able to serve them in a convenient location soon. We wish to take our time with this, however, as it is crucial that we maintain our values in delivering quality education to each and every student.

The journey has only just begun but “MAKE” to be blazing the trail for maker education in Singapore. Our rigorous school system may have served us well for the past 50 years, but I believe that a different set of competencies are needed for the next lap. Beyond its capacity as a business, “MAKE” hopes to be a beacon of change and serve more parents who realize the importance of building future-ready competencies in their children. At the very least, that’s what I want for my children.

mm

I cover entrepreneur stories around the world for Vizaca.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *