It was during his hunt for a job in the finance sector over 15 years ago that founder and principal of E-Bridge Pre-School Penang Patrick Tiah realised just how little paper qualifications meant in the grand scheme of how apt a person was for a job.
Having graduated with a Masters in Finance following his Bachelor’s in Engineering, Patrick noted just how financial corporations tended to seek out talent from various disciplines and not just those with the relevant qualifications like he did.
“They just wanted the best people, and even after graduating with a Masters in Finance, I had difficulty getting the job I wanted because I did not have the relevant experience and had not done any internships,” he said.
Eventually, Patrick did manage to settle on a career in finance and equity, starting out in Kuala Lumpur and then moving to Singapore. But after 15 years, he found himself seeking a change of scenery.
“As an Equity Research analyst, by that time I had interviewed hundreds of CEOs, and I had always wondered what it would be like to own and run a business,” he said. “It took me a while to figure out what business to start, but having four children myself, I’d always been interested in education.”
So with that in mind, Patrick first considered the thought of opening up an education centre in Singapore, but then decided that there was a bigger need in Penang.
“The overall quality of childcare and education had more room for improvement, and I felt I could add more value to the community,” he explained. “My approach to business is to build an operation which adds value to all the stakeholders in the community, which in this case includes children, parents, and the teachers.”
“If I do that, profits will follow.”
For those not familiar with the school, E-Bridge Penang runs as part of the EtonHouse International Group—one of Singapore’s most prestigious early education brands—and aims to bring the same standard of education to a wider market, with prices made more affordable compared to the main brand.
“When I opened discussions with EtonHouse, I was more keen on bringing E-Bridge to Penang as an affordable option for Malaysians, especially dual-income families where both parents are working,” Patrick said. “I think that it adds more value to the community and the economy as well because it allows mothers to go back to work with a peace of mind.”
As a full-on member of the group, E-Bridge Penang receives access to the entire EtonHouse curricula as well as teacher training and advice for best practices for running the school, with their integrated bilingual programme focusing on English and Mandarin the majority of classes taught and Bahasa Malaysia offered as an individual subject to prepare children for primary school.
Let The Student Lead
When quizzed on their teaching philosophy and attitude towards learning, Patrick said that E-Bridge currently adopts a play-based, inquiry-driven approach based on Reggio Emilia—an education philosophy from Italy that promotes a scenario where the child learns and the teacher facilitates, rather than instructs.
“In the traditional or teacher-driven approach to learning, the teacher instructs the student on what they should know, what they should do, and what the world should be,” he said. “This conditions the student to take orders and wait for instructions.”
“It does not encourage them to have a different view, to be creative, to challenge consensus, or to be a leader.”
Driving the point home, Patrick explained that compared to other schools and centres, E-Bridge avoids using worksheets and workbooks to prevent students from arriving at the conclusion that there’s only one to solution to any given problem.
“In our approach, we start by respecting the child as a capable individual and on equal-footing with adults,” he said. “Even at a young age, children will have their own views and theories about the world—we don’t dismiss them outright, but we will design a project or experience for them to find out the truth for themselves.”
“Instead of instructing them in a certain topic, we design a project for them to apply the principles.”
The Earlier, The Better
Patrick also feels that the stage of early pre-school is the most important part of a child’s education pathway, and thinks that it is here that a child forms their outlook on life and develops a love for learning.
He referred us to the Heckman Equation—a series of findings and equations that show just how valuable early education is, and also how more people were now beginning to appreciate its importance.
“If they enjoy learning and going to school at a young age, then primary and secondary school become a much richer prospect for them—I’ve seen this with my own children.”
Though the same viewpoint isn’t so widespread yet in Penang, he hopes to help perpetuate it and make it more commonplace in due time.
On a similar note, Patrick also explained the difference between E-Bridge and other pre-school centres, offering his opinion that while his school may not be the most affordable option out there (parents can expect to pay RM1,200 to RM1,300 a month for full-day programmes complete with three meals and free learning materials such as books and other utensils), it’s all balanced out with value.
“Generally, we are at a premium to most of the local childcare and kindergartens in Penang, but priced lower than most of the other International Schools,” he said. “The difference is that we invest more in our facilities and equipment, and especially in our teachers.”
“The problem with being low-cost—and that is something I do warn parents about—is that the only way to achieve it is to either work the teachers too hard, or pay them very low wages,” he added. “Either situation is not good for the child, and for us, we always put the child’s welfare and interests first.”
Let The Child Do The Talking
Having talked about his approach and thoughts on early childhood education, Patrick also made known his personal opinions on the overall education system in Malaysia, and shared his gripes on the generally too-academic nature of local learning.
“Sadly in the last few decades, it’s become more and more intensely academic, and that puts unnecessary pressure on the children,” he said. “We’ve seen some progressiveness in early childhood education, though, and in the last few years, the Ministry of Education and the Community Welfare Department have embraced the concept of learning through play, holistic development, and integrated learning.”
Obvious enough, Patrick still has a bit of work to do in order to get parents to become more accepting of his outlook, but rather than baulk at the challenge, he’s relishing it.
“The biggest challenge for us as a new school with a new approach is to convince parents that our way is better, and to win their trust as caregivers to their children,” he said. “Our approach is to communicate frequently and to be open.”
“If there are mistakes on our part, we’ll be honest about it and take steps to do better going forward,” he added. “We try to work with parents as partners, so that what we do in school can be reinforced at home, and vice versa.”
Right now, Patrick is letting the results do the talking, and hopes that parents will notice the positive changes and improvements exhibited by the students at E-Bridge.
“We’ve had some children cry non-stop when they first joined the school, but are now independent and confident,” he said. “It’s very satisfying when children enjoy and look forward to school, and even want to go to school on weekends.”
E-Bridge currently operates in two Penang locations. Their Bayan Baru campus is currently full with a waiting list slowly growing, and their newly opened Georgetown campus is already seeing steady growth. Moving forward, their focus will continue to be on the Penang locality.
“We don’t have firm plans for now, but our mission is to provide affordable, high quality education and childcare, and to support working parents,” Patrick said. “We will go where we see demand for it, and where we can have a positive impact on the community.”
You can visit the E-Bridge Penang official website to know more about what they offer.
Feature Image Credit: E-Bridge Pre-School Penang