[19 Jan 16] “Learning Business Smarts” – Skylace featured in Straits Times


COMPETING with over 2,000 tuition and language schools across Singapore, Skylace Language School had to think out of the box to stay ahead of the pack.

In 2004, it created a learning aid called Wisdom Cards — a set of flash cards to help its students recognise Chinese words and enhance their oral skills.

“Our students often don’t have time to revise their work, so we decided to come up with an easy way for them to learn quickly,” says Ms Amy Tan, who co-founded Skylace in 1989.

To expand its footprint beyond the tuition market, Skylace then approached local schools.

Impressed with Wisdom Cards, one primary school principal decided to use them for all Chinese lessons in her school.

“Our Wisdom Cards are now adopted by over 60 primary and pre-schools in Singapore,” says Ms Tan, who has taught the Chinese language for over 20 years.

Such out-of-the-box thinking would not have been possible without the dedication and experience of its pool of 12 teachers, many of whom are Singaporeans who believe in integrating the element of play into their classes to keep students engaged.

Today, Skylace is profitable and runs four centres in Singapore and one in Malaysia.

But like many small and medium-sized enterprises, the school has been facing challenges in retaining staff, who often have to take on administrative tasks on top of their teaching workload.

“This posed many obstacles to our growth plans,” says Ms Tan.

Faced with this challenge, Skylace approached the SME Centre at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2013 for guidance.

Following the advice from Ms Lee Lay See, the centre’s principal business consultative adviser, Skylace tapped Spring Singapore’s Innovation & Capability Voucher (ICV) scheme to conduct an overall business diagnosis on its management and key business operations.

The recommendation: More innovation was needed to enhance its work processes.

Acting on this recommendation, it implemented a tablet-based, e-learning app that offers students a flexible learning experience that matches their own pace, while enabling Skylace to automate tedious, paper-based assessment processes.

“Previously, we had to manually print, distribute and mark assignments. But with this app, assignments are automatically graded, giving teachers more time to coach the weaker students,” says Ms Tan, adding that with the app, processing assignments take 15 per cent less time.

Recognising that Skylace relies on a multi-generational workforce, Ms Lee also recommended the school to tap the Age Management Grant under the Workforce Development Agency’s WorkPro scheme.

Skylace has since completed this project, which includes building capabilities in age management practices such as having junior teachers sit in during lessons delivered by more experienced teachers.

“Once the junior teachers have picked up the skills over a period of time, they will be assigned their own classes, with some guidance from their senior colleagues,” says Ms Tan.

As a result of such initiatives, Skylace has been able to retain 99 per cent of its staff over the last two years, and now spends less time recruiting and training new employees.

The school has also picked up new skills to improve its financial management processes.

“We’re a passionate group of teachers, but we’re not good with running a business, so the help we’ve received from Spring Singapore was really helpful,” says Ms Tan.

The company is now undertaking a brand upgrading project to improve its marketing and branding capabilities.

“We hope to help more students improve their Chinese language skills,” she says.

By Aaron Tan

(Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Picture and article copied from this website: Learning Business Smarts )