It is 5pm on a Tuesday and a class of 10 students are going through an English-language cloze passage about the Peruvian lost city, Machu Picchu.
But instead of memorising facts or going through a worksheet, these Primary 4 children – all pupils at home-grown tuition centre Mind Stretcher – are taking a different approach, by watching YouTube videos about the site and exploring the terrain virtually through Google Maps.
For Ms Kristie Lim (pictured), ex-lawyer and founding principal of the Mind Stretcher chain, the philosophy of her business has always been simple: to provide a sound standard of education for everyone.
And for the 49-year-old entrepreneur, that has never wavered – from when she started Mind Stretcher in a bomb shelter in Bishan in 2001 to today, as the woman behind a booming 15-branch business with regional campuses, science labs, 200-capacity seminar rooms and a presence in China.
Ms Lim’s commitment to meeting the needs of every child was what pushed her to invest $1 million in 2015 to launch the Mind Stretcher MS e-Study Buddy app in collaboration with local education consultancy firm Amdon Consulting.
The in-house digital platform is offered free to all students and since late last year, has been used to teach classes at the chain’s 15 branches across the island.
Says the mother of four children, aged 24, 22, 18 and 17: “I realised early on that a one-size-fits-all curriculum will not work and that technology can really help to make education accessible. Building our own platform has allowed us to provide a consistent level of teaching at all our centres, which has fundamentally always been our goal.”
Her three older sons are serving national service and her daughter is studying commerce at the University of Melbourne.
And with a healthy annual enrolment in classes – from pre-school to Secondary 4 – there is no doubt that the centre has come a long way from its humble bomb shelter beginnings.
The 1,800 sq ft basement space where it started did not have any windows and could be accessed only by passing six public toilet cubicles.
“It definitely was not ideal,” says Ms Lim with a laugh, recalling those early days in 2001. “It didn’t help that we were out of sight of passers-by, which meant our marketing efforts quite literally started from ground zero.”
Those days in many ways reflected her own humble beginnings in life as the youngest child of a housewife and taxi driver. Living with her parents and five siblings in a four- room Housing Board flat in Hougang, she felt little pressure to do well in school or succeed academically.
“My parents were focused on just providing for us, so they never guided me or my siblings when it came to schoolwork,” says Ms Lim, who is the first university graduate in her family.
“I was in many ways raised by my older siblings and in my early years as a student, I just found myself going through the motions with no real preparation for classes or exams.”
Luckily for her, when she was posted to Serangoon Secondary School, she found herself in the best class. Surrounded by classmates who were focused on schoolwork, she became more motivated to do well.
Armed with 10-year-series books and practice examination papers, she set aside time to study every day. She also had to train herself to focus on her work, even when faced with distractions such as the television blaring at home.
Her efforts paid off when her O-level results were good enough to get her a place at Temasek Junior College. There, again placed in the best class, she continued to work hard and was accepted by the National University of Singapore to read accountancy.
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