If you don’t know why you are doing something, chances are high you will do it halfheartedly at best. For children, defining something as abstract as success is difficult – but when you can, like ALA does, it motivations them like nothing else
When a boy tidies up his room because he believes it will earn him some ice cream, his parents actually want him to learn about staying in control of his future.
And when it comes to learning a specific skill set like that of classical ballet, professionals have to define success for those who cannot tell the difference between a pirouette and the splits. This is the core purpose of certificates issued by trained and experienced professionals, whether as proof that somebody can dance, speak a foreign language fluently or play an instrument.
Internationally recognised certification for extracurricular activities on an international level has been widely unobtainable in Cambodia – until recently. In late June, Advance Learning Academy opened on level three inside AEON Mall, offering learning programs that are enriching and certified.
Though grading isn’t compulsory for students, the Australian-owned academy for ballet, taekwondo, music, yoga, dance, arts and more has raised the bar for quality extracurricular education and is clearly an up-and-coming market leader.
Daniel Li, the academy’s founder and CEO, thinks that there is “a vacuum for quality after-school programs in Cambodia”.
And he is right. Though a large chunk of Cambodian students engage in various forms of extracurricular activities, according to the National Institute of Statistics (see graphic below), learning is rarely rewarded with objective proof of skills in the form of a certificate. ALA, for instance, is the only ballet school in the Kingdom that can produce certified ballerinas, as no other ballet school offers internationally acknowledged exams run by the Commonwealth Society of Teachers of Dancing).
“There are many people with good teaching intentions but they fall short of measuring performance.” Li says. “Many institutions do in-house grading, which is not internationally recognised.”
At ALA, there are eight distinctive ballet exam levels to pass and taekwondo belts from the World Taekwondo Federation in many colours to earn. This hints at the difference in the quality of judgment between in-house and recognised external grading.
But the objective recognition means more than the guarantee that a student has a clearly defined skill set. Before a learning institution like ALA is able to fly in recognised examiners from overseas, it has to fulfill requirements beyond teaching a standardised curriculum.
In many cases, examining institutions or franchise owners demand learning centres meet high space and facility standards. To meet the requirements, ALA offers a 1,040-square-metre area to teach various programs under one roof. “Space is necessary to develop full learning potential,” Li says.
Furthermore, teachers need to be thoroughly checked to grant the school permission to hold internationally recognised examinations. Aside from their qualifications and experience, staff applicants’ country of origin and police records are also checked.
Obviously, students who are not externally graded benefit from the high facility standards as well.
To make sure staff are not only qualified but also motivated, Li has instituted self-regulatory policies.
“We run our teachers like a business. This way we keep standards. Our staffers are dynamic, energetic, young and ambitious.”
Because quality convinces learners, courses are highly frequented and demand is growing. As a result, ALA’s capacity is being well utilised and it can offer its classes at reasonable prices.
“We don’t charge much more than everybody else does – sometimes even less.” Li says.
“We want to make quality education affordable.”
In fact, with an average rate of $3.50 per hour, ALA appeals to a wide audience. Fifty per cent of its students are Cambodian and 50 per cent from overseas, including South Korean, Japan, Europe and the Americas.
Traceable structures at ALA don’t only produce better results in terms of the quality of education – learning is much more fun when students have the chance to produce presentable results.
“A taekwondo belt, for example, is the reward to an achievement nobody can take from you,” Li explains.
The students seem to have gotten a taste of success they can understand: According to the CEO the average student takes more than two courses at ALA already. “But we are working on increasing this figure by offering more quality learning programmes.”
The motivation for students to learn remains the same however. If children and their teachers both have an own clear idea of what the purpose behind the course is they do what it takes to succeed. In that sense, a taekwondo belt and a cone of ice cream can be very much alike.
The following pictures show examples of courses that ALA offers (not only for children) and assessments of the educational value, as given by the teachers. Photos were supplied by ALA.