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Refining the Private-Public Partnership in the School System.

Jaspal Sidhu, Founder & CEO of the SIS Group of Schools has worked tirelessly over the past decade to bring Singapore’s exceptional quality education to students in Indonesia. He recently spoke to The Peak about his determined resolve in creating better access to top quality education.

What led you to start this programme?

Indonesia is the fourth largest education system in the world. The country has 55 million students in schools, about 23,000 schools and 3 million teachers. The government has done well as illiteracy has dropped by half since the mid-1990s, dropout rates have also lowered, and the education budget has increased. But in the world PISA [Program for International Student Assessment] Indonesian students are ranked low and it was the same 10 years ago. It’s important to address the issue around teachers. My children had the privilege to attend a fairly expensive school and I could not understand why education needed to be that expensive. I thought ‘why not provide access to everybody’ so I halved the tuition fees I was paying to $15,000 a year. And with the help of Ministers in Singapore back then and my alma-mater Raffles Institution, I started the Singapore International School and ran it for 10 years. But it was still expensive for other income levels. So I started more schools and halved the fees to $7,000 for these schools. I got funding from the IFC (World Bank). Then I decided to start schools in the provinces. I halved the fees to $3,500 and started a school in Medan and then halved that to $1,500 and started a school in Palembang. The last one entirely taught by Indonesian teachers. What we have is a “vertical collaboration”. All my schools priced differently collaborate with each other in an eco-system. And this is the essence of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) that I am pushing. Schools must collaborate. A collaboration of ideas between the public and private schools, where teachers can learn from each other. In our schools, heads of school come together and share every 2 months. There is an exchange of ideas. Today we have teachers from public universities coming for internships. I’m on a major expansion phase with schools in Surabaya, Makassar, Bali and Bandung through a strategic partnership with a private equity group. All these schools will play a role in PPP initiatives.

How about the students? Are you seeing results?

We always aim to take the best teachers. Our professional development budgets are generous. Our students are almost always among the top 30 per cent performers in international Cambridge O and A level exams world-wide. Every year we have world-wide toppers in subjects. We just introduced the International Baccalaureate programme recently. It is my aim to make the IB accessible to as many people as possible. For example the school in Medan will be offering it at $4,500 fees a year. It’s the only school in Sumatra at that price. I want to show the world that you don’t have to pay $20,000 or more a year for an IB programme.

In terms of accessibility you’re targeting different levels of society. But what about for those who are entirely unable to afford the fee?

There are a number of scholarships. For example, we work with progressive companies and match, dollar for dollar, to help the children of their employees get access to our schools all over Indonesia. For example, if the company is only able to pay a certain percentage of the fees for an exceptional child of their employee, we match them with our fund. And the employee pays the remainder - per month, interest fee. We carefully pick the companies because we only want companies who can commit to such a programme.

What is it about the Singapore model that works so well that places students on higher levels in international assessments?

The Singapore system has a disciplined pedagogy with very clear outcomes. We will work to achieve a clear learning outcome at each level for each student. Around it we will make sure there are other aspects of a holistic education like sports and creative arts. When you come into a school like SIS you know exactly what you’re going get at each grade level. That discipline cascades down. Every teacher knows what they have to deliver. Each child is tracked, and if they need help we have support systems and remedial programmes to help the child. The second thing SIS prides itself in is we do a lot to equip our students with 21st century life skills. We call it PACE—perseverance, analytical thinking, collaboration and communication, entrepreneurship.

What targets do you hope to achieve?

My dream is to have a SIS school in every major city in Indonesia. My second dream is to create a movement in the education industry so private schools understand their role in this country and work with public schools.

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