Acuere Education Centre– Mr Allan Teh, Builder of Future Leaders
Tucked in a corner of Blk 210, Hougang Street 2, sits Acuere Education Center founded in 2009 by 38 year old Mr Allan Teh. Mr Teh started the business as a one man show and has since expanded to have 3 full-time employees and more than 20 freelance staff and tutors working with him.
Acuere is the Latin word meaning to sharpen. At Acuere Education Centre, the focus is not merely on the pursuit of book knowledge but on instilling the sense of knowing the difference between right and wrong, and the application of knowledge in the right context across disciplines instead of being limited by the false boundaries of subjects.
It is thus fair to say that Acuere Education Centre is in the business of sharpening the minds of the future pillars of our society. We are honored to have the chance to sit down with this whetstone of minds for this short interview.
Q: Hi Mr Teh, Shall we start off by speaking a bit on the beginnings of the company?
A: I was a Navy Regular for six years up till 2005. My job in the Navy involved a lot of instructing and passing on of knowledge to others, which was where I discovered my passion for teaching and sharing of knowledge. I really enjoyed the process of taking those raw eager talents and grooming them into knowledgeable sailors who can apply the knowledge I shared with them for the common good.
After I left the Navy, I decided to apply the methods, systems and principles of education that I picked up to grooming students. I started with just one room and myself as the tutor and slowly expanded to the current premises with 7 classrooms that can accommodate between 50-60 students at a time, and an active enrollment of more than 200 students.
Q: Can you share with us some of the challenges in setting up and running this business?
A: The main challenge is actually sourcing for tutors. The talent pool is not big here, and it is even harder to find the right candidates who share the same vision with us. The education system in Singapore is also quite a challenge, as there is no synchronization between the different schools. While all the schools work with a general guideline for the subjects being taught, there is no fixed system on the order and how they are being taught.
We take in students from all the different schools and they come to us at different levels of progress, it is not easy for us to tailor a course that can cater to and be in sync with every student. Another challenge in education is how to groom each and every individual to their fullest potential. There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to nurturing students, every individual reacts differently to different education methods. We can’t simply throw out a set formula and expect all of them to be able to absorb and progress at the same speed. We need to figure out the best way to bring out the full potential of each and every individual based on their individual needs and circumstances.
Parents also play a big part in the educational progress of their children. The grooming and nurturing of a child is a big project, one cannot simply depend on the schools, education centres and teachers or tutors to take on all the responsibilities of grooming a child.
Parents also need to nurture the child’s study behavior and mindset. The child needs to be able to understand the ‘why’ of education. Most of the time, grades can only be improved by a mindset and behavior change in the child. While we do our part in instilling that mentality, parents must also continue the work at home. Without the active co-operation of all parties involved, there cannot be a fundamental improvement in the child’s educational progress. I am proud to say that, through this approach of changing the fundamental mindset of the students and imparting application based knowledge into otherwise dry subjects that they study, we have created many success stories of average students improving tremendously and going on to achieve many great things in life.
Q: What are some of the differentiation you have with other similar service providers?
A: One of the main difference I believe, is that we take the time and effort to get to know our students. We find out the obstacles they face and make the education process enjoyable for them. We emphasize a lot on their mindset towards learning and trigger their hunger for knowledge.
It’s all about the heart and not just hard rote learning and grades. Grades is just a gauge of how much the student has picked up in class, we place more emphasis on how they can apply what they learn in the classroom in real world situations. We open their eyes to how calculus, physics or chemistry affects them in their daily lives.
We also explain the cross applications of concepts and ideas across different subjects and show the students that everything they learn are inter-related and are building blocks to the world around them. In this way, they are able to have a more all-rounded understanding of what they are learning and how everything fits together.
When they understand the ‘why’s and applications of what they are learning and have the right mindset and behavior towards acquiring knowledge, it is only logical and natural that they will develop an interest and their grades will improve over time.
Q: What are some of the biggest sacrifices you have to make as a service provider?
A: Holidays (laughs).
I feel that I do have enough personal time to be honest. But, being in the education business, it is almost impossible for me to take any extended holidays or even enjoy public holidays except maybe at the end of the year after the final examinations and the schools are closed.
The process of learning does not stop during holidays and we are open through public holidays as well, especially if they are near to exam periods. Our students are our responsibilities and we have to be responsible for their growth and progress even if it means we have to give up some of our own time.
Q: What visions and plans do you have for Acuere Education Centre in the coming years?
A: We are actually already in the process of transitioning from a tuition center into a full-fledged Private Education Institution.
We have some students who are not doing very well in the mainstream education system and we hope to be able to provide them with another option to further their education with us. We believe that they are talented and it would be a pity if they are forced to discontinue their education journey due to systemic issues.
As Singapore is now known as a regional education hub, we are also actively attracting students from neighboring countries to study at our center. Currently, we have students from China, India, Philippines and Vietnam studying here, just to name a few.
We have also implemented a signing in system where students who attend classes here tap in with an electronic card and a message will be sent to their parents via an app notifying them that their child is currently with us and are attending classes.
We are also planning to have our own campus in about five years’ time and we would like to offer diploma courses by that time. These are all plans we are working on now and hopefully we will be able to roll them out in due time.
Q: Education is not an easy job that requires a lot of time and effort, what inspires or motivates you to continue doing this?
A: Apart from my passion in teaching, I believe there’s a part of me that wants to be able to make an impact on society and leave my legacy in my own small way. When you think about it, what do you leave behind when you pass on from this world? The only thing you leave behind is your name and legacy, you become a memory in people’s heart and mind. The only other thing you leave behind is the knowledge that you pass on to others in your lifetime.
If I only manage to pass on my knowledge to three people in my whole lifetime, and these three people carry on passing that knowledge to others, and they pass it on to even more people, it could effect a change and create an impact. That would be my legacy. So, yeah, I guess you can say that passing on my knowledge is what gets me up and keeps me going every day.
Q: What are some of the principles you hold on to in running the business?
A: It’s always about the heart. If you can change yourself, anything is possible. It will always have to come from within.
Q: What are some of the biggest fears or worries you have in running a business?
A: I don’t really have any major worries. I believe in proper planning and having a good system in place. I have never worried about high operating costs or other issues. I do not go on the defensive and try to play for a draw. I always believe in attacking as the best form of defense. If my operating costs are high, then I just need to create a bigger income stream.
Things don’t happen by themselves, you have to make them happen for you. The only limit that everyone have is time. Just make sure you have a goal in mind and plan your route towards it properly and you don’t really need to worry or ‘fear’ the obstacles in the way.
Q: How would you define success?
A: I will know that I am successful when I start to fail.
The progress of life is like a sine curve, there’re always ups and downs. I can’t weigh my successes, but I can definitely weigh my failures. How would I know that I have been successful unless I fail and lost something that I have gained?
I would call myself a success when I can do things on my own terms and know that I do not owe anything to anyone. It is impossible to satisfy everyone all the time, but as long as I have put in my best effort and gave my all, and someone has benefited from what I do, I can say I have a clear conscience and does not owe anyone anything. That, to me, is success.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being in the business?
A: I really enjoy seeing the changes in my students from the day they came into our centre with no proper knowledge to the day they leave us with a passion for learning and the ability to apply their knowledge to their lives. I enjoy being able to connect the dots for my students, linking what they learnt in the classroom to how it affects them in real life, how the different subjects are actually inter-related and are building blocks for everything they see around them.
I love the look in their eyes when a lightbulb goes off in their heads, that ‘Aha!!’ moment. Last, but not least, I really enjoy my own learning process and my own growth while leading them on this fantastic learning journey.
Q: Finally, what advice would you give to a young aspiring entrepreneur?
A: Learn everything you need to know about what you need to do. Go through the entire learning process yourself first. When you are starting from scratch, you have to understand the process of how everything works.
When you have a grasp of how everything works and are ready to hire or expand your team, you need to build a system and standard operating procedures for them. Have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for every position in your organization structure.
The system and S.O.P you create does not need to be perfect from the beginning, it will definitely need constant tweaking and improvements over time. What’s important is that you set it up and implement it from the start and scale it up with time as your organization grows. It is the backbone of your business and is crucial to building a strong internal structure and strength for your company.
Finally, conduct regular appreciation inquiries to discover your organizational strengths and keep building and improving upon those strengths. When you have an appreciation of certain activities, it is natural that you will do them even better.
Acuere Education Centre