Revolutionising Learning For All Ages: Da Vinci Group

A recent statement by Singapore politician got me thinking. He was referring to policies and how there will be winners and losers in every policy. If you take our Singapore policies, he was spot on. There have been many who have tremendously benefited. There have been others who have fallen through the cracks. If there is one area that should aspire to be "crack-free", it would be in my opinion, education.

Unfortunately, our education system is rigid ( some might prefer it to be that way) and one-dimensional in its core.  We can accept that every child is unique and talented in his or her own way. The era of rote-learning is long over. While we do recognise the Ministry's efforts to incorporate hands-on learning, unless and until we bring about a holistic change, we still have a long way to go.

The Guru Project caught up with one such duo, who have revolutionised the learning process. Applicable to toddlers 18 months and above to even adults and seniors, this has to be the way forward, where education is concerned. We catch up with Amutha Saravanan, Managing Director of the Da Vinci Group. She shares with us her journey with pottery and the discovery of this new manner of learning.

Tell us about your journey with pottery.
Amooo’s is what we started out with. Amooo’s was created soon after I started pottery and took it up as a hobby. People started commissioning me for my ceramic works because they liked my style. We then got ourselves a kiln as that was more cost-effective for us. Selling and making wares did not seem like a sustainable business idea, so we dug a bit deeper and that led to the birth of Da Vinci Group (DVG).
DVG's first big investment - The Kiln

As I got more involved in pottery, I could not help but realise how therapeutic it was. We started looking into the science behind pottery. That led us to neuroeducation as a concept. Neuroeducation is actually a teaching methodology, which is a sub-set of neuroscience.  John Hopkins University has a neuroeducation initiative and it’s widely known in the States.

My background in psychology with a focus in clinical neuropsychology and Sara’s background in biomedical sciences and neurobiology proved to be an asset in our understanding of how we can apply neuroeducation to a traditional art form such as pottery.

When you use multiple senses to process information, be it, information of different sorts, you integrate it and form connections at different levels, even at a biological level. For example, if I am using my hands to process information about things you talk to me about based on a theme, e.g., SG50, Singapore’s history, how Singapore looked like in its earlier days, and then I make a pinch pot while I am listening to all this new information and then incorporate designs based on what I have heard, I have internalised the content and I am expressing it on the pinch pot.

The pot becomes an extension of my understanding and it becomes a concrete manifestation of that, so when I look at it, it is a trigger point for the experience that I had, that is, learning about the content. It’s like a photograph. When you look at a photograph again, what you were feeling, the experiences at the time of the photo will come flooding back to you. This is the same mechanism that acts as a trigger point. Our whole aim is to empower children, by making learning fun.

Considering this was a hobby that you picked up when you were an adult, how did the concept of educating children fit in?
It was very natural. When I am playing with clay, it feels like I am in a state of child-like wonderment. When Sara and I started discussing how we can make this a viable business and bring the wonderment across to people, we realised that in today's education system, everything is about rote-learning - we wanted to bring the fun back.

We also wanted to break the segregation between the arts and sciences. The whole inspiration behind Da Vinci Group was because of Leonardo da Vinci. In his era, there was no segregation between the arts and sciences.  Whatever was applied in the arts was applied in sciences and vice versa.
We wanted to bring that back to the Singapore education system in a fun way.

Our child was an inspiration to the above. I gave birth after DVG was born. In a sense, our child gave us direction. The curriculum that we developed was tried with our son, first. I am always mind-blown on how he manages to pick up and absorb things. At 17 months, he can still retain what I taught him a week ago.

If I were to quote Finland as an example, they are light years ahead of us in terms of education. They are moving towards a topical approach to education instead of a subject-based approach, similar to DVG. Our programs are holistic.

For example, in our "Finding Nemo" session, we speak about the ocean, where we are in relation to the oceans, the animals and the biology behind it. We even introduce new words like “camouflage”, “endangered”, etc. They learn different things at the same time. For the older children, every time a child creates his own product, he speaks about it and explains the product. This improves his public speaking and his confidence.


Is your style of teaching 'out of the box' as one would call it in Singapore?
No, we are telling you that there is no box! That is where the issue is. The current system looks at how one can think out of the box. As such, they are looking at the constraints of the box which goes against the very development of creativity.

With the rote-learning era, the children of today will lose out to the world tomorrow. The world is already moving in a direction where our children are not exposed to. At the end of the day, does the system want model and obedient employees or Nobel laureates?

Would you be keen on working with our school system to help our local kids?
We have no qualms with working with the Ministry. However, they need to have a system that monitors the quality of what we are trying to do. They need to understand the principles of what we are trying to achieve. We do not want to be just a vendor competing with another vendor. We are not just another enrichment program, we are pioneers in a revolutionary teaching method in Asia. Since, we are not MOE-certified, we are labelled as just another enrichment programme and another vendor. They need to understand what neuroeducation is and why we are doing this.

The current Ge-Biz tendering system has no way of measuring quality and works in favour of sub-standard vendors who are able to slash their costs due to their lack of quality. How many clinical neuropsychology and neuro biology-trained professionals are creating their own curriculum?  There are thousands of tuition agencies. How many of them are even qualified?

What type of programmes does DVG have?
We have 3 different pillars, the first of which is focused on children.  We have programs for 18 months - 3 year olds, and courses for 4-7 year olds and 8-12 year olds. We can even customise programs for teenagers as well.
Our second pillar focuses on adults. We conduct team building sessions using NeuroCeramicsTM as a tool to meet their requirements. Our last pillar is targeted at the elderly, where we have active ageing workshops.

Teambuilding courses are dime a dozen these days. How is DVG's NeuroCeramicsTM based program any different?
The principle is the same as how we teach the children. Let's take a common problem most teams seem to have; punctuality. We try to re-affirm their commitment to punctuality by getting them to make a mug with their own inscription on it. The mug becomes a usable product in your office. Imagine the next time you end up late and use your mug to get yourself some coffee, all the experiences during the process of making the mug will come flooding back.

NeuroCeramicsTM incorporates your sense of touch into the process. It then becomes a biological process. We are literally re-wiring your brain. For that process, clay happens to be the best medium. It will outlive us. In fact, we are still learning about our ancient civilisations through the pottery work they left behind.

Is this concept of NeuroCeramicsTM new to Singapore?
We would like to think that we are the pioneers of it. Pottery has existed for years. We do not pretend to ignore that. What we have done is to understand the science behind using such a medium and adopt this art form as a platform for teaching. The fact that many of the leading preschools are extremely pleased with our programs is a validation for our concept.

How do you see DVG in the near future?
We have to grow and hire at least 2 permanent staff by the end of the year. Both of us are so caught up with the deliverables and operations that we are unable to focus on business development, marketing, etc. We are mindful that this expansion will not be easy. We need to hire and train the right people. Someone with a background in psychology would be ideal. We are confident that we will be able to expand without having to compromise our quality.

As spoken to Thinesh Kurunathan
The Guru Project

DVG has graciously extended a 10% discount for their Captain Planet, Scooby Doo  and Let's Go On A Safari  December holiday camps. The Coupon Code is "GURU". Do take advantage of this special offer.

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