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Interview - The children's house

by on 12/05/2015     167 4659

Established since 1986, The children’s house is the first licensed, preschool to introduce the complete Montessori method of education. Kiddy123 recently interviewed its founder, Ms. Nan Civel, to learn more about The children’s house. 



What inspired you to start a business in early childhood education?


Childhood education was introduced to me very late in life. Earlier on, I was working in the corporate sector. My first scholarship was from Universiti Malaya. I was trained in management and it was Unilever Malaysia that gave me my second scholarship to specialise in Management. I worked 10 years in the HR department in Unilever Malaysia.


Choosing childhood education is my personal vision. After working for 10 years, you have time to reflect. Before I studied in Universiti Malaya, I was working in a kindergarten for an Australian woman called Mrs. Syme. I was assigned to manage a class of 15 children and the class had absolutely nothing but a table and lots of crayon. I realised the children enjoy drawing so I drew and coloured with them and sang with them. Mrs. Syme once told me ‘just keep them busy’, so that was really my objective. I kept them busy by drawing, singing and playing. That was the throwback that made me want to start a pre-school.


I went to the UK and one of my friends there introduced me to the Montessori method. He gave me a leaflet about Montessori, however the information was not very detailed and very abstract, hence I embarked on a 3-year course of study and work programme in the Maria Montessori Training Organisation in England. After receiving my Diploma in Montessori Education, I subsequently gained many hours of teaching experience in three schools in London. Then I opened the first Montessori pre-school called The children’s house in Malaysia, introducing the complete Montessori method of education in 1986.

 


 

What makes The children’s house different or unique compared to other similar players?


I priced myself way above other local kindies. We strive to offer quality early childhood education and we are proud to have gained the trust of more than 10,000 parents over the years. The environment of our schools is always in tip-top condition and the educators are well-trained in using the Montessori Method of teaching.


More importantly at The children’s house, we instill strong values and culture within our children and our staff. Our educators, who are our greatest treasure, are warm, loving, nurturing and respectful of every child.


We also started a training department, and developed a comprehensive in-house training facility to enable educators to successfully facilitate the optimal learning and development of the children under their care. This will also ensure that the high quality of the educators, the culture, and environment are well preserved. I do not want to expand just for the sake of getting more enrolment. I believe quality is more important than quantity.


 


What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this business? And how did you manage to deal with these challenges?


I was the first person to introduce this Montessori Method in Malaysia 29 years ago. It was very challenging to convince the local parents because it was never tested in Malaysia. I had parents interviewing me for hours. When I told them I had previous experience, they even checked and called my former employer to see if I was telling the truth. They really checked your honesty and integrity. Back then, the expatriates didn’t trust Asians. You have to earn their trust. But after three months, through word of mouth, we started to receive many enquiries from parents, usually those from top level management, directors and even local cabinet ministers. 


The other biggest challenge is to hire teachers who are fully trained and dedicated. If you have wonderful children and a beautiful environment but you don’t have dedicated and well-trained teachers, it will be pointless.

 

 


What age groups do you cater for?


The starting age is 3 months, and up to 6 years. The Montessori Programmes are implemented at Toddler, Nursery and Kindergarten level. Programmes for each age group focus on preparing the child for the next level and our low teacher to child ratios are designed for optimal learning.


In fact, we were also chosen by Bank Negara as the service provider to set up and manage the Bank Negara Corporate Childcare Centre exclusively for their employees. We were requested to design the curriculum for them based on our experience and expertise. It is three years now since its inception.

 



When did you start opening The children’s house and the other outlets?


My first school was opened in 1986, at 5 Jalan Batai. In the second year, when we had 200 people on the waiting list, we decided to open the second school also within Damansara Heights. Subsequently the other schools came along over the years as the demand for quality ECCE increased. 



 

But in Malaysia, many say that they teach using the Montessori Method. What are your views about the Montessori Method being taught in Malaysia?


Montessori is a word in the public domain. It is not patented so anybody can use it. Whether they really know what the principles of Montessori are and how to apply them accurately, we believe only the parents will discover for themselves.

 



Currently, you have 8 centres. Any future expansion plans?


Yes, because I think a good system must be close to where the parents are. Therefore, we want the school to be located within the suburbs. We are looking at areas such as Puchong, Bukit Jalil, Subang, etc, somewhere close to the neighbourhood that are convenient for the parents to drop off their children. We try to look for bungalows that have a big compound as it’s more conducive for the children to play outdoors and explore.


We don’t believe in a franchise system because we want to ensure that quality is preserved and maintained.

 

 


What is your advice to those who are thinking of opening their own kindergartens?


The person must have a sound knowledge of what running this business is about, how to get the teachers, and how to manage it. They need to know the pre-requisite obligations, such as licensing, safety and health issues, etc. I was lucky because I had my training in business management and have worked in a big corporation so it’s is easier for me to face the challenges.


I knew I wanted a person who has good communication skills with the parents and the first person I hired is an administrator. The second one is a cook and cleaner, where she will cook for both the children and teachers. I wanted the garden to be clean and tidy hence I employed a gardener. My strong point is in teaching, hence I only focused on teaching and nothing else.


So I really think those who want to open and operate a child-care centre must take all these factors into consideration in order to run it efficiently and effectively. The person must only concentrate on one thing and not multi-task, otherwise the person will lose focus on their main tasks.   



 

What do you think of the state of the child-care/kindergarten industry in Malaysia?


I think now the government is looking at the quality of early childhood education. The education department wants to ensure that educators have a minimum diploma or degree as a pre-requisite requirement for running a childcare centre. They already acknowledge the importance of qualified educators who will influence the universal values of our next generation.


However, some individuals choose to conduct malpractices, such as hitting and scolding children. There are so many complaints of malpractices that came directly from parents and media, the government had to tighten the regulations and policies, causing some child-care providers to face more difficulties in starting a similar business.