The Lab: Aspiring Woman Entrepreneurs Award 2021/2022

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Founder of The Lab, Adelene Fong

In the digital age, coding has become more important than ever. As businesses from all over the world grow inextricably linked with IT, it is only natural that coding, the language of the digital age, is now seen as a skill that will bolster your career prospects. That is why people of all ages are compelled to pick up coding, with many parents even starting their kids young by exposing them to fun coding games or programs. Better still, they can enrol their kids into a coding school to learn all about the subject in a more comprehensive and holistic manner.

The Lab, founded by Adelene Fong in 2018, is at the forefront of coding schools for kids in Singapore. With an emphasis on learning through play, The Lab eschews the more traditional teacher-centric classes to deliver creative and engaging lessons that give children the freedom to explore. Their students come out of their lessons with a strong grasp of coding concepts, developing their logical thinking skills and preparing them for when they enter an IT-dependant workforce.

How The Lab Got Started

Although Adelene now owns a successful coding school, she did not have any formal training in the IT field; rather, her background was in finance. But it was during her time as a customer relationship manager that she met with several successful business people who were forthcoming in sharing their trials and tribulations with her. The more she learned about their experiences, the more she was inspired to start her own business.

With the ever-growing importance of coding, Adelene saw the potential of running a coding school, and figured that it was something she could get really passionate about. And so, in 2018, Adelene took a leap of faith and started The Lab.

“Since I did not have formal training in coding, I formed a team of consultants around me to guide my decision making,” Adelene says. “They would give valuable advice from a macro perspective on how the school should be run, and I would be in charge of the execution of these ideas.”

During The Lab’s early days, the school marketed aggressively on social media, giving them an immediate boost to their visibility. They frequently posted interesting videos and amusing skits onto the Lab’s Facebook page, many of which were designed to encourage parents that coding was something worth learning, even from a young age. “One of the more charming videos was of a parent handing their child some gifts. The child would shake her head at all the big gifts, but when she was presented with the opportunity to learn coding, her eyes lit up right away,” Adelene recalls.

Adelene and her team spent half a year on marketing before they started conducting lessons, but this strategy paid off handsomely. The Lab quickly became one of the most recognisable coding schools in Singapore, with more than 500 students across their three locations.

Learning Without Boundaries

Sit in on one of The Lab’s lessons and it quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary class. Their lessons may seem loud and boisterous, but it is the result of the deliberate learning environment that prioritises the adventure of learning over rigorous classroom settings. “Some parents think our classes are too noisy, but we believe that making our lessons fun and engaging is the best way for kids to learn,” Adelene says.

In a typical lesson by The Lab, students will be presented with challenges to complete. They will spend the lessons exploring – often with fun programmes, robots or other technologies – to find the best way to complete their tasks. The teachers are more facilitators than didactic instructors, giving the kids just the right amount of guidance so as to not impede their exploratory learning.

This focus on the child’s individual discovery also enables The Lab to accommodate students of all learning styles. By embracing every child as unique, their teachers can adjust the curriculum to suit a child’s proficiency. Their small classroom sizes also facilitates this, allowing their teachers to give their attention to each and every child.

And despite the flexible approach to classroom learning, The Lab’s general curriculum is founded on academic and data-driven bases. The school works with experts like curriculum specialist Dr. Oka Kurniawan (Senior Lecturer for Singapore University of Technology and Design) and data scientist Dr. Collin Ang (Managing Director of Decision Science) to design a curriculum that is effective and comprehensive. Child psychology also plays an important role, with psychotherapist Dr. Scarlett Mattoli providing input to ensure that the school’s pedagogy remains as conducive to a child’s learning as possible.

Above all else, The Lab hopes to prove that coding is something worth pursuing; that beyond its benefits to a child’s career prospects, there is inherent fun in the logical puzzles that coding presents.

“Some of our kids tell us they want to be programmers in the future,” Adelene says. “This is evidence that what we are doing is working – we have made coding enjoyable for them. To me, that is really gratifying.”

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