SME Spotlight

Local school scores top marks with global credentials

Mr Dereinda and Ms Yeo at the SSTC Institute's premises in Kitchener Road. The school was founded in 1978 and was a pioneer in offering commercial and secretarial skills. Today, its O- and A-Level preparatory and English programmes are highly sought-
Mr Dereinda and Ms Yeo at the SSTC Institute's premises in Kitchener Road. The school was founded in 1978 and was a pioneer in offering commercial and secretarial skills. Today, its O- and A-Level preparatory and English programmes are highly sought-after and it has moved into the higher learning domain, through partnerships with overseas universities.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

The SSTC Institute is part of the old guard in Singapore's private education scene, having weathered many changes and challenges in the industry. Through its focus on quality education and commitment to staff - which won it the Tafep Exemplary Employer Award in April - the company has stood strong. In the third of a four-part series, Wong Wei Han talks to founder Rose Yeo and principal Emil Dereinda about SSTC's history and formula for success.

Q The SSTC Institute seems to have a long history.

Ms Yeo: Indeed. After I founded the institute in 1978, we were one of the few private schools in the market, and a pioneer in offering commercial and secretarial skills such as bookkeeping, typing and business English. That's why we are called SSTC, the Systematic Secretarial Training Centre.

Until the 1990s, SSTC was very popular with school-leavers, who had far fewer choices then as there were only a couple of polytechnics and no ITE (Institute of Technical Education) yet existed. We were also regularly contracted by government agencies and big corporates to train their clerical and secretarial staff.

But, of course, the industry today is very different, with polytechnics and ITE becoming the main platforms that absorb the bulk of local students at subsidised rates.

Still, I'm proud to say that SSTC remains one of the very few private education institutions that are locally founded and owned - in fact probably the only one left that has never changed ownership.

Q: How has the institute transformed and adapted?

Mr Dereinda: First it's our mode of delivery. Three years ago, we started implementing flipped classrooms for our A-level classes. The technology allows for independent learning at home through videos or podcasts, a good fit for international students who can easily replay the notes if they miss something.

QUALITY FOCUS

We strive to be different from many of the private schools in the market right now, which we think may not be very selective with their student selection criteria because their programmes are not always internationally recognised.

MS ROSE YEO, SSTC'S founder, on the school's stringent admission criteria.

I believe we were among the first to offer flipped-classroom content. This, in turn, frees up the time in classrooms, so that instead of wasting time on going over the basics, our lecturers can focus on things that require more hands-on guidance. Ms Yeo: In terms of what we teach, our bread and butter is the O- and A-level preparatory and English programmes. These are highly sought-after by international students, who form almost the entirety of our annual intake of around 350 students.

Q Surely that's not enough to compete in the market?

Mr Dereinda: That is why since 2005, we have moved into the higher learning domain, through partnerships with overseas universities. Over the years, we have partnered with Australian Catholic University, University of Illinois Springfield, University of Salford Manchester, and University of Wisconsin-River Falls, which will come on board this year.

One of the principles that we have held is that whatever programme we provide, it must come with an internationally recognised qualification. For instance, the diplomas we offer in collaboration with Pearson Education are BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) Level 5 equivalents, and BTEC is recognised in more than 100 countries, allowing students into the second or final year of a degree programme depending on their grades.

Q Why does this matter?

Ms Yeo: The point is that we ensure a pathway for our students, so that they either stay with us until they earn their degree or at every stage, they can go out having options. In exchange, we are very stringent with our admission criteria - part of the reason why our student count isn't very high.

But this sets us apart. We strive to be different from many of the private schools in the market right now, which we think may not be very selective with their student selection criteria because their programmes are not always internationally recognised.

These schools may be in trouble come this June, when the Committee for Private Education tightens the industry rules around admission criteria. We will all be reviewed, but I believe SSTC will not face any trouble.

Q It sounds like you're very demanding of your staff.

Ms Yeo: We have to be. Our people are hired to deal with students and their integrity must be 100 per cent. If not, they are in the wrong place, because we are educators and parents depend on us.

But in exchange for that professionalism, we as a company trust our staff fully and maintain an open-door policy to their needs. For instance, we have one lecturer whose son has recently fallen ill, and we've allowed him to work from home, thanks partly to our flipped-classroom model. Mr Dereinda We have around 40 full-time employees, including about a dozen lecturers. Some 40 per cent of them are over 40 years old. This shows that we choose our people based on merit, ethics and their ability to fit into our culture, over factors such as age and academic qualifications.

I myself have been here for close to 13 years. I like the family-like environment. It's also a place where I can learn new things at every turn because, at an SME like us, you need to be exposed to many roles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Local school scores top marks with global credentials'. Print Edition | Subscribe