With over 30 years of contribution towards early childhood education (ECE) in Malaysia, Dr Sim is recognised as a keen strategist in pushing the industry forward since 1988. Through innovative strategies and economical solutions, he continues to create better opportunities for aspiring early childhood educators and advocating ECE in the country. At Dika College, he has been imperative in leveraging on its potential to lead the institution to greater heights. To date, hundreds of graduates have walked through the doors of Dika College who are in return creating a significant impact in the field of ECE today.
Dr Sim has been described as one with a love for education. According to him, in life there tends to be a trigger that pushes us to pursue our passion. For him, it was his experience in school. “When I was in primary school, I used to cycle to school. Sometimes when it rained, I would reach school drenched and will be sitting in class shivering. This happened a few times and the teacher was indifferent. That experience stayed with me because even at that young age I knew as a teacher, it is important to be concerned of the welfare of the students because it affects their learning potential.” This ignited a passion in Sim to ensure that teachers are trained to be multi-faceted in their abilities, not merely to deliver knowledge.
Dr Sim’s path in education began in 1985 with the establishment of a kindergarten and private school called Sang Suria Private School in Selangor. “Founded by my business partner, the kinder-garten and private school were initially independent entities that was later merged to form REAL Education Group.” Today, it operates 30 kindergartens, 2 private schools in Klang Valley, one private school in Johor Bahru and a college in Klang Valley, with student numbers exceeding 20,000 and the faculty comprising more than 1,100 educators.
“It was the beginning of a new category of kindergartens, which we referred to as child enrichment centres. Since the beginning, REAL Kids set out to be different than the conventional kindergartens. In fact, it was a first-of-its-kind in Malaysia. It has a swimming pool, computer lessons, gym class and we kept the student numbers per class moderate. The maximum was 25 students per classroom,” says Dr Sim, who has been the Chairman of the REAL Education Group since 2014. Although initially concerned if the market was ready for the new concept of early education, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Today, it has expanded by leaps and bounds and is now a well-known brand of child enrichment centres in Malaysia.
It is his experience with REAL Kids and his belief in the importance of training teachers that inspired Dr Sim to be part of Dika College. “I believe in early childhood education and also that if you want to run a good kindergarten, the teachers need to be trained. To date, we still have a significant number of early childhood educators who are not certified. While the Government has taken steps in rectifying this situation, it is an ongoing effort. I believe as specialist in ECE, we have an important role to play.”
Besides being impressed of Dika College’s considerable progress in almost 20 years, Dr Sim says he finds the quality of education offered at Dika College is unparalleled. “In the industry, Dika College is perceived as the specialist in ECE compared to other institutions, which a bigger in sheer size. Before venturing into Dika College, I did my research on the institution’s background and company operations even though I personally knew Arthur Ng, the key founding member and former Executive Director of Dika College at that time. It was really encouraging to note that Dika College has an experienced team Also, the academic programmes are beyond just the classroom, which is pragmatic and practical.”
With a number of the workforce in ECE not certified, Dr. Sim finds that this is a timely venture for him. He is also keen in seeing to the change of perception with regards to educators in early edu-cation. “Most parents have little or poor regards towards their children who want to become early education teachers. Awareness about the importance of early education is also very low among parents. They don’t realise that starting early education at the age of 2 is important. Those are the crucial years. It is not well articulated and I believe the media and the industry has a big role to play to create awareness.”
Furthermore, Dr Sim has plans to diversify the academic programmes beyond those offered at Dika College. He is convinced that programmes like special education, business and entrepreneurship will be alternative options in line with the ECE programmes. Especially like the Diploma in Special Education (Early Years), it is with little argument that every early childhood educator should be exposed and understand the basic fundamentals and science behind children with special needs, considering that there are almost 90,000 SEN (special education needs) students registered as of last year. All kinds of children should be given a good quality education, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
Coming back to the topic of ECE teachers being not certified, he says that it is imperative to rethink as to how to approach this segment comprising of many teachers in the pursuit of training. “The Government has been focusing on skills training via technical and vocational professional programmes to better equip our workforce. Skills are vital for poverty reduction, economic recovery and sustainable development.” Which is why the classes and the programmes offered in Dika College, focuses not only on the theoretical aspect of the subjects, but the practical and hands-on implementation of those theories and knowledge. Dika College’s flexibility on their timetable allows and encourages students to take part-time jobs in the relevant industry making them more prepared and well-equipped with the industry current practices and skills even before graduation.
Moving forward, Dika College aspires to be niche player in ECE and its growth strategy is aligned with this in mind to deliver market driven ECE programmes that draws on its strength and expertise. As a leader and visionary, Dr Sim aspires for Dika College to grow to become a university.