Jaspal Sidhu: A Passionate Educationist Striving To Make Education More Affordable & Accessible In Southeast Asia

Jaspal Sidhu: A Passionate Educationist Striving To Make Education More Affordable & Accessible In Southeast Asia

Jaspal Sidhu, Founder & Chairman, SIS & Inspirasi Group, 0

Born and brought-up in Singapore, Jaspal Sidhu (Founder & Chairman, SIS and Inspirasi Group) of Schools is among the most eminent personalities in the South-East Asian education industry. Passionate to make quality education more affordable and accessible, he is an inspiration to upcoming entrepreneurs and leaders in the education industry. CEO Insights Asia recently had the opportunity to interact with Jaspal about his journey so far as a business leader and the SIS and Inspirasi Group. Below are the excerpts of the exclusive conversation.

Enlighten us about your educational and professional background. What motivates you today?
I was born in a humble Singaporean family. My father worked hard to educate his three children. I graduated with a Civil & Structural Engineering degree from the National University of Singapore and received an MBA (distinction) from the University of Hull (UK) My first job was in coal mine in Sumatra. In 1998, I was part of a team that discovered one of the largest coal mines in Indonesia. Life became comfortable and my children had the privilege to attend a very good but expensive school in Jakarta. During my work trips across Indonesia, I saw first-hand the inequalities around accessibility to good schools. My conscience pushed me to leave the mining industry and I went on a mission to make quality education affordable and accessible. I have always believed that if you are sitting on something good, you need to make that good available to the largest number of people in the best possible way. This inspired me to establish SIS and Inspirasi Group of Schools out of Singapore.

Tell us about the SIS Group and how it is different from other schools.
SIS Group of Schools is in a strategic partnership with the IFC(World Bank) and operates K-12 schools across the region with annual fee structures varying from $4000-15,000/year. None of our schools in our network operate in isolation, as we have an international award winning ecosystem in place that enables all teaching and non-teaching staff to collaborate all year round We focus on the 3Ps in all our schools People, Program and Place. Our hiring practices look out for very specific traits such as humor, open-mindedness and enthusiasm.

The school curricula is based on three of the world’s best the Singapore curriculum in the early years, the Cambridge curriculum in middle years, and then the International Baccalaureate in the later stages. Student projects are around the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) where life skills like perseverance and entrepreneurship are honed. Across the network, our students always perform above international benchmark exams and head to top universities. Because of the standards of governance and international best practices, we are able to form strong and trusted partnerships to expand our schools beyond Indonesia, India and Myanmar.

Give us an insight into Inspirasi schools.
Inspirasi means Inspiration in the Javanese language. Inspirasi is a brand of K-12 schools with annual fees lower than $3,000/year to make education even more affordable. Clearly, infrastructure costs and hiring are
major challenges to keep fees low. Here, I forge partnerships with real estate companies looking to an international brand in their development. On hiring, we partnered with Deloitte (Singapore) to research and design an innovative playbook to hire and train teachers through best practices from outside the education industry like those used by Google and Facebook. This playbook focuses on eight core attributes of a teacher we call EFFECTOR – Earnest, Funny(or Humor)Firm, Enthusiasm, Consistency, Timeliness, Open minded and Researcher. Based on our experience, we know these researched attributes play a big role in creating better student outcomes.

If you are sitting on something good, you need to make that good available to the largest number of people in the best possible way

What are your views on integrating technologies into the education system?
Technology is definitely making education more efficient and accessible, but it is not a panacea for the woes of schools. These are rooted in in human resource shortcomings, lack of best practices and weak stewardship. Those need to be solved first before money is spent on technology. Whatever technology introduced in a school it will eventually be paid for by the student. I ensure that the tech we embrace does not only make learning more effective but also makes education more affordable.

Tell us about your Green School model.
The principles of a green school are not just about the curriculum or the school building. It is about a teaching and learning experience where our young take responsibility towards a healthier and sustainable future. We subscribe to eight of the 17 UNSDGs, and all eight are embedded in our programs. We also closely monitor the energy usage in all our schools and hire independent safety auditors to inspect our buildings periodically. Recently one of our schools in Chennai received the IFC (World Bank) EDGE green certification for its efficient design.

What are your principles as a leader?
My leadership approach mirrors the group’s values of fairness, respect, integrity, compassion and courage. I strive to promote DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) practices in our network of schools. I also encourage the concept of ‘ownership mentality’. This demands a high level of transparency around data and performance. A key focus on my leadership role is the well-being of all my staff.

Where will the Group go from here?
SIS and Inspirasi will continue expanding in India and Indonesia where we already have a strong presence. Finding a local partner whose values and goals align with ours is really essential for our expansion plans.

Jaspal Sidhu, Founder & Chairman, SIS & Inspirasi Group
Quick Facts:
•Hobbies:Standup comedy
•Favorite Cuisine:Indian
•Favorite Reading:Articles on educational
transformation in developing countries
•Favourite Holiday Destination:Maldives

Awards & Recognition:
•2019:Awarded the Financial Times International Finance Corporation (World Bank) Global Transformational Award
•2020: Named by Capital Finance (UK) as the Best Educational Institution in SE Asia
•2021:Nominated for the Stewardship Leadership award by INSEAD and the Hoffman Global Institute

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