Can you give us the introduction of S.A.M?
S.A.M stands for Seriously Addictive Mathematic, an enrichment program specializing in Mathematics. S.A.M curriculum is modeled after world-renowned Singapore Mathematics syllabus and its pedagogy (a.k.a. Singapore Maths), where they have successfully produced many Mathematics champions. In less than a year, S.A.M. Malaysia expanded to 25 S.A.M enrichment centers where some is expected to be ready by end of this year.
S.A.M was founded in Singapore in 2010. This is the only Singapore Maths Enrichment program that originated from Singapore, and taught in Singapore. The company was founded by 2 individuals, Samuel Chia and Lau Chin Loong, who are passionate about child education and have the intention of bringing the best and most successful mathematics curriculum to children around the world.
Singapore’s Minister of Education developed Singapore Mathematics Curriculum about 20 years ago. Now, what’s unique about Singapore Mathematics is its problem-solving curriculum. The key objective in teaching Singapore Maths is to develop good thinking skills to solve problems.
There are five elements in embracing the problem-solving curriculum in Mathematics. The elements are:
So all the things I’ve mentioned are the things Singapore curriculum for Mathematics embraces and teaches its students. These are the keys in developing the problem-solving skills in what we call, thinking kids.
I see. Thank you so much for the explanation. My next question is what inspired you to bring S.A.M to Malaysia?
Last year, I approached several Mathematics programs because I’m passionate about Mathematics. That was when I came across S.A.M, which was then still very new even though they were established back in 2010.
I was very much interested in the way they deliver the program, their mission statement, their objectives and also the way they present the program. After having observed these, I believe these are the things that are lacking in Malaysia’s education system, especially for I was attracted by their pedagogy that strictly follows “Concrete, Pictorial and Abstract (CPA). This is very important according to child development theory for a child to fully understand any topic they learn.
This is why I find S.A.M has a very unique way of delivery. This program emphasize both classroom and worksheet experiences, which is important in teaching Mathematics. The curriculum also emphasizes on understanding and use worksheet exercises as reinforcement of what have been taught during the class for the concept in Mathematics
It’s also worth to mention that during our classroom sessions, we use our own Mathematical tools that we develop ourselves as well as processes and methods that are uniquely by S.A.M
Does this means that the way Mathematics questions in Singapore school are set very differently compared to the questions for our Malaysian students?
Oh, yes. They are very different.
Singapore curriculum for Mathematics focuses on understanding what the question is about. For example, we asks the students to identify the elements in a question such as how many people are in the question? What are the information you can find from the questions? Will these information helps in your solution? Etc. In Malaysia however, we focus on just identifying the numbers and apply the necessary formula either addition or subtraction. We do not explore or explain the problem to make it relevant to the students to answer.
Singapore curriculum for Mathematics builds the critical thinking part before a student solves the question. The students need to thoroughly understand the question first and picture the situation before answering the question. The teachers also ask probing questions to gauge how far a student understands the elements of the question.
This is how Singapore curriculum for Mathematics differs greatly from ours. And these are the methods that we adapted into our S.A.M programs and the key that makes us different from many other conventional Mathematics programs.
You mentioned that Singapore changed their Mathematics curriculum more than twenty years ago. Was there any significant improvement or changes after this was implemented?
Yes. The international benchmarking studies like TIMSS, which stands for Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and also another one called PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) were carried out and you can see that Singaporean students typically scored to the top three of these studies.
Basically it means that Singaporean students are the top students in the world when it comes to Mathematics. But these studies are not about basic computing or calculating skills; they are more about the ability to solve problems. These studies explore the question of how do you apply the Mathematical skills that you learn in your country in the real world. And Singaporean students ranked as the best at this.
Do you happen to know how does Malaysia rank in these studies?
Yes, in the recent PISA study in 2012, Malaysia ranked 52 out 65 countries involved in the studies. And during this year, Singapore was second in the list.
PISA questions are tested on students who are 15 years old because these students have received at least 8 to 9 years of education. These studies focuses on what the students of a country have learned and how they apply it to the real world scenario.
Okay, moving on to my next question. Why do you think it’s important to develop right mathematical skills?
As I say, Mathematics is not about calculating or computing, as what many parents believe. It may have been once before, but now, in the 21st century, especially with advancement of technology, you have many gadgets like smart phone and tablets that bundle with calculator and other maths program for free.
So what you know is not important anymore because anyone can obtain information very easily on the Internet. But how you apply what you know makes all the difference.
Traditional way to solve Mathematical question is about “What”. Meaning, you apply an equation and you will get “What” the answer is, regardless whether you understand. But now, “How” is much more important. It’s the key difference in learning Mathematics today. With these understanding, children understand the relational part of the mathematics.
Mathematics shouldn’t learn through procedural way. It’s more about understanding and applying that you know to solve unusual problem. It’s important to think logically and critically. If you’re not able to think critically, you will believe everything you read. This is because you’re not able to dissect and quantify viable information and derive the result for yourself.
You mentioned briefly that many students finding Mathematics boring, especially Malaysian students. Can you elaborate more on why this is happening?
If you don’t teach Mathematics in a fun way, in ways that make sense to children in their real life that it helps them to understand why, children will find it boring. If you only drill it into kids to memorize formulas and Mathematical equations, children will find it boring.
Human brain doesn’t like repetition. It doesn’t work well with procedures and it doesn’t like drilling exercises. So if Mathematics is taught through memorization and drilling and made worse with no opportunity to ask questions, a student won’t be able to understand it. Our brain does not like memorization
So when a student understands something, he or she will naturally remembers it. But if a student is drilled to memorize a Mathematical formula, he or she will find it extremely difficult to remember because the brain is rejecting this method. And if you teach Mathematics this way, then of course children will hate it.
This is why at S.A.M, we really focus on making our students understand by making it as simple as possible. We allow our students to understand the concept and we always use small numbers to make things easier for them to grasp.
What are the main challenges faced by you when you initially started this program or until today?
I think one of the main challenges is that I realize many Malaysian parents are still not exposed to the right way of teaching Mathematics to their children. They are more focused in getting their children to score high marks in exams.
This is why we insist on spending more than 30 minutes to explain to the parents who come in for enquiry about the right techniques to learn Mathematics and what we are doing here.
We hope to create that awareness in Malaysian society and help our students, because the majority of our students have problems with Mathematics even though they get high marks. They do not have the ability to understand and solve questions that require critical thinking.
Another challenge is teachers. Many Malaysian teachers are caught in the education system. So at S.A.M we really put emphasis on training. Our teachers need to throw away what they have learned before and relearn new methods that are effective. It is very important for teachers to have patience, passion, and the heart to provide the best for the students.
We want our students to be able to know why they get the answers and understand the process. Many Malaysian students only know how to find the answer but they have no idea why it works that way. This is what we want to change and it’s one of the most challenging tasks.
Why is such way being taught at our Malaysian schools?
This is what we call instrumental teaching, where only one method is used to teach the students over and over again. When there is something out of the ordinary happens during the course of that method, our students will get stuck because they’re not taught other ways of exploring the problem.
Why instrumental teaching is applied in our schools? Because it is easier and simple to teach!
To teach 40 – 50 students in one class, it’s a lot easier and saves a lot of costs to teach one way that everyone can memorize rather than investing time and energy to explain the situation part by part. Not only that, our education system also has a lot of syllabus that needs to be completed and teachers are often pressed for time.
If you see the situation in Singapore, they have fewer topics because they would rather spend time explaining a subject rather than rush it. So they use what is known as relational teaching, where students are able to relate two things together and apply that in the subject that they’re learning.
In that case, would you say Singapore’s way of learning Mathematics is more stressful than the ways Malaysian students are taught?
It’s not stressful because personally, I think it’s more fun because you understand what you’re doing. It is when you don’t know what you’re doing and yet you’re forced to do it, then things get stressful and you start to hate it.
My final question is about business opportunity. What advice do you have for someone who wants to be involved and start a business in this field?
I believe this program has a huge business opportunity. But we need to a lot of awareness programs for parents before we can truly introduce this at a much larger scale.
We need educators and individuals who are passionate and keen to nurture young minds to work with us. We want this program to be more accessible and common for kids from different areas and backgrounds. We believe this program can help to develop a thinker that is crucial for the country.
The delivery for this program is not easy. So for those who are interested to venture into this business, they also need to have passion in education and must be willing to unlearn and relearn.
How much capital do they need to start? Who should they talk to?
S.A.M franchising cost is very affordable to many. We intentionally set at affordable level in order to make this program affordable to all categories of kids in our country. S.A.M program delivery is more difficult compared to other Mathematics program since we involve many tools and processes, but we believe the approach is very effective for our kids to understand Mathematics. This business is for those passionate people with genuine love for children and a genuine desire to educate young minds. This business especially suits ex-teachers, educators, and qualified individuals. You can contact me, at 012-3833218 or email me at email@example.com to understand more.