He may have hailed from Russia but Dr Alexander Kuznetsov’s commitment to bringing out the best in children is a universal maxim that appeals to the hearts of parents in Singapore.
“So many schools see themselves as performing a function of ‘education’, which includes indoctrination of various sorts, all with noble intentions, I trust, but I simply want my daughter to learn subject matter; and not be part of a system,” says IT specialist John Catalano who enrolled his daughter Emma, eight, at 5 Steps Academy because it focuses on learning, rather than education.
“The prospect of Emma being able to advance as fast as she was able to learn was quite attractive. I’ve not been disappointed as Emma is currently learning and testing well above her age-level,” he adds.
Armed with a PhD in Mathematics, a Masters in Child Psychology, and a wealth of teaching experience, Dr Kuznetsov founded 5 Steps Academy to draw out the different talents of not only foreign children living in Singapore, but also locals with special permission granted from the Ministry of Education (MOE).
Regardless of nationality, while Dr Kuznetsov’s novel pedagogy in education is drawing in the eyes and minds of parents through its doors, at its core is an environment that learns from mistakes rather than exposing them.
“Our children are our hope for the future and we are their hope for the present. Even in the best schools and programmes, the traditional style of teaching obviously cannot focus on personal gaps. We can. We ask our kids to make mistakes and we don’t punish them for the mistakes. That’s how they learn,” he says.
From a tuition agency to an international school
It was in 2014 that Dr Kuznetsov migrated to Singapore with his family and it was then that he set up A1 Math Pilots, a tuition agency in Yishun with the S$200,000 he had.
Raking in good results, Dr Kuznetsov set up 5 Steps Academy, the only international school in Singapore focusing on Mathematics. It is said to provide a world-class multilingual well-rounded education founded on academic rigour.
The father of five and author of books on parenting, structures the 5 Steps System™ in a way that its students receive well-rounded education and grow into knowledgeable and caring young professionals, who are broad-minded and erudite.
A school called the 5 Steps Academy
The 5 Steps Academy is both a Cambridge International and United States (US) College Board approved school, and is entitled to administer SAT, used for college admissions in the US; AP and IGCSE in Britain; and A Levels examinations, providing students with various pathways to their further education.
The academy has grown from just ten students during its founding years to over 130 students from ages 5 to 16 today. It also boasts a low 1:8 teacher-student ratio, complemented with rich co-curricular programmes.
What makes 5 Steps Academy stand out from the competition is a strong focus on academic excellence, particularly, in Mathematics. Proficiency in Mathematics helps children develop critical thinking skills and techniques to deal with non-standard and challenging tasks. This skill set of systemic thinking enables students to demonstrate logic and creativity, which is portable to other fields including arts and languages.
The school is aptly named 5 Steps Academy, drawing from its 5 Steps System™ to provide a personalised and holistic approach for adolescent learning. The system comprises three main components:
- Five stages of child development;
- Five steps learning spiral; and
- Five steps revision.
Unlike the traditional way of teaching a class of students with different abilities, attitudes, learning styles and preferences, the 5 Steps Academy focuses on each child’s educational needs. Students learning through this system have largely benefitted, some of whom had even sat for the O-level examinations at the ages of 9 and 11, and had passed subjects like Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry with flying colours.
This ‘speed learning’ pedagogical approach allows students to attain higher rates of learning without reduction of comprehension or retention, providing the most efficient path to master the curriculum, even if a student is below the age of mastery in traditional education.
Divyasree, a 5 Steps Academy Student who wants to be a singer, finished her London music school grades without compromising her academic studies and at 12, while her contemporaries in the local schools are looking at attending secondary school, she is already in Secondary Two at 5 Steps Academy.
“Dr Alex (Kuznetsov) and her teachers are friendly as well as very helpful and they keep encouraging Divyasree’s musical journey,” says Divyasree’s mother Mrs Jeyalakshmi Ravichandraraja.
Mrs Ravichandraraja enrolled Divyasree to the 5 Steps Academy when she was eight years old because she felt the other international school Divyasree was attending was “way expensive and required extra maths and English classes outside”.
“When I learnt about 5 Steps Academy, we decided to take Divyasree there to have a look around. It was located opposite the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station then and she fell in love with the school,” Mrs Ravichandraraja says.
Divyasree, who turned 12 in 2022, saw her overall discipline and academic achievement improve and her mother says her own stress level also fell “because my daughter never needed any tuition outside of school after that”.
At the academy, fast learners sit for the examinations when they are ready. This way, they are not held back by the average pace of the class and are always challenged according to their abilities.
Late bloomers at the school are never put through any examination unprepared and are given as many revisions as they need to prepare them, to ensure there is no stress or fear of mistakes.
Mrs Paola Sessions says she was nervous when she transferred her two children Bodhi, 11, and Beren, 8, to 5 Steps Academy.
“We wanted the flexibility of being able to set our vacation time so that we could maximise family time abroad. Our children were in the local Singaporean system and were quite happy. But seeing them progress in the subjects that they excel at a faster pace than children in their age group has been really thrilling,” she says.
Parental involvement: The best predictor of their children’s success
Research has proven that parents who are involved in their children’s education is the best predictor of their success and it is this involvement that is essential to the students staying committed to their education.
According to a 1992 research, parental involvement in any form produces measurable gains in their children’s academic achievement and this holds true today. What this means is that parents should be especially intentional about being involved in their children’s education.
The 5 Steps Academy believes the success of its programme is based on strong collaboration between teachers and parents. With the view that every student is unique and has great potential to make a positive contribution to the school and society, the school aims to inculcate independence, responsibility and necessary skills in each student to enable him or her to face the challenges of the future.
Parents can be great teaching assistants with ‘proper guidance’, but not many schools invest enough resources in partnership.
“Our parents and teachers maintain intensive communication with each other to make sure the two parties are on the same page (when it comes to the children). This improves not only the children’s academics but also parent/child emotional bonds, that is, if the parent is patient enough. Most parents are eager to help, but they need to be guided to be part of a team focused on their children’s development,” Dr Kuznetsov says.
Apart from its high standards for academic attainment, its programme also emphasises the growth of its students, aiming to provide an individual approach in guiding, counselling and supporting them to reach their full potential. That means the school is non-selective in our admissions policy and will admit every child.
The academy even states on its website that its fees are affordable because it “strongly believes that every child deserves the best and should not be restrained by financial issues”.
An academy with teachers that train other teachers
The 5 Steps Academy is also a Professional Development Centre accredited by the University of Cambridge to teach teachers from other schools around the world, through its professional development qualification in teaching and learning programme.
According to the academy, its teachers are “true leaders in modern instructional techniques and have first-hand access to the world-class resources from both Cambridge and College Board”.
Dr Kuznetsov, a Cambridge-accredited and certified programme leader, and Cambridge-certified mentor Natalie Lim, an English teacher and lead educator at the academy, are both allowed to train teachers regardless of location, in-person or remotely.
Apart from 5 Steps Academy trademarked pedagogy and unique focus, the school offers a variety of subjects including English, Maths, Science, Chinese, and Russian at elementary level, and then biology, chemistry, physics, economics, world literature, history, and geography at secondary level.
Each school day runs from 10am to 1.40pm for elementary and to 2.40pm for secondary students.
As a non-selective school there is no formal academic year at 5 Steps Academy allowing students to join at any time for flexible travel plans and holiday periods. In turn, this helps save on the monthly S$1,800 fee, where parents pay only for the duration that children are enrolled. The total estimated cost is about S$15,000 per year, depending on how enrollment is arranged.
For more information on the 5 Steps Academy, click here.