TL;DR – The secret is his nothing-to-lose spirit.
The first time I met Anders Tan and his colleagues over a drinking session (of soft drinks), I noticed the abundance of energy and hope he exuberated.
Among other serious matters we discussed while inebriated with bubbles of carbon dioxide, I learnt that Anders (who has co-founded several startups and was sharing about his latest one Inclus) had gone through EM3 in Primary School.
As I followed Anders and his Inclus co-founders on their journey to train and place adults with special needs into jobs, I witnessed how a young man (whom our judgmental society may have simply dismissed due to his weak academic scores as a student), could change the narrative that others had put on him.
By believing in himself, he also believed he could make a difference to other people’s lives.
What would you have thought of Anders’ future when he was a child?
As a young student, Anders struggled with classes. He was placed in the EM3 stream* under the Ministry of Education’s (MOE’s) education policy then.
*In 1992, the primary school education was revamped with a goal to provide youths in Singapore with at least 10 years of general education. Students were streamed at the end of Primary Four into EM1, EM2 and EM3 (EM stands for “English and mother tongue”), where each stream learnt mother tongue as a first language, as a second language and at an oral proficiency level respectively.
In 1996, as EM3 students were found to have difficulty with the English language and mathematics papers (that were common papers then across the three streams), they subsequently sat for foundation English and foundation mathematics instead.
In 2008, EM3 was discontinued when MOE introduced subject-based banding (which allows students to study a combination of standard or foundation subjects, with the foundation subjects being simpler versions of the corresponding standard subjects).
When I asked Anders about the difficulties he faced as a primary student, he shared,
“I was unable to focus in class, had a short attention span and was easily provoked. I scored a total of 109 during PSLE, and proceeded to Anderson Secondary under Normal (Technical) stream.”.
After PSLE, Primary 6 students are banded into different secondary streams based on their PSLE scores.
For Anders’ case, his PSLE score of 109 excluded him from attending the secondary Express or Normal (Academic) stream. I was unable to find the cut-off points for his year, but in 2018, the cut off points for these two streams were 188 and 152 respectively.
In secondary school where Anders was streamed under Normal (Technical), he remembers he was among the lowest ranked.
“I was doing very badly in school. I remember I ranked 36th in class out of 41 students in Sec 1.”
However, this didn’t deter him from trying other activities as he grew up.
“During Primary 6 to Secondary 2, I joined lion dance and participated in their events and activities. I also discovered my strengths. I feel I was pretty independent, and I worked part-time as a telemarketer, cashier and sales assistant (when I was older) to earn an allowance.”
Even though he did not do well academically for PSLE, during his N levels, he scored 4 As, 1 B and 1 C. He proceeded to ITE East (MacPherson) to study Info-Communication in 2002.
“When I was in Secondary 2, I fractured my arm and took a break from lion dance. I reconnected back with my cousin in Secondary 2 who supported and gave me guidance, and he took time off to tutor me. The result: I was ranked 2nd in class.”
“By the end of Secondary 4 / N Level, I was pretty determined to complete at least a diploma course in my education journey. So the choices I made to enter ITE was an important decision because that will affect the next step to polytechnic.”
“I chose Info-Communication because that was the only course I was interested in and I foresaw technology-related skills will be highly sought after in term of employment. I worked hard during the 2 years and with the help of many lecturers, I managed to proceed to NYP with a NITEC cert.”
Why ITE is not “It’s The End”
Anders felt he benefited a lot from attending ITE, although he didn’t like wearing a uniform.
“ITE has a good support system. Lecturers and staff are generally more patient and spend a lot more time to get to know you. The curriculum focuses on specific skillsets leading to local/overseas internship opportunities.
“You had more freedom, in terms of break time; you can travel out for meal, explore more options. There were lots of CCAs to participate in too.”
Reflecting on his ITE schooling days in the past, and how our ITEs today have improved compared to the past, he points out that:
“Campuses are generally smaller with limited courses in the past. The current ITE campuses are huge with more course offerings. Very similar to what you will expect in polytechnics.”
To support students from his alma mater, Anders also recently joined the Management Committee of ITE Alumni Association in March 2019.
One of Anders’ goals is to support ITE students with special needs with opportunities for internships and subsequently jobs, which aligns closely with Inclus’ existing work of training and placing trainees with special needs into jobs sustainably.
He has also been a Council Member in the Young Entrepreneurs Association Singapore since 2015.
“I wish to build up the entrepreneur scene and to help Special Needs individuals achieve life goals (finding job and purpose in life) in ITE as part of the Management Committee of ITE Alumni Association.”
Having that hunger to venture as far as possible
As Anders continued to flourish throughout ITE, he subsequently studied Business Informatics in Nanyang Polytechnic from 2004 to 2007, and then completed a degree in Information Systems Management in SMU from 2009 to 2013.
He had a lot of ideas and the hunger to create solutions that did not yet exist.
After working for OCBC as a sales associate for slightly over a year, he quit to co-found three successive startups: EduSnap (a peer tutoring app), BitStudio (a software company specialising in business and user-first design), and Inclus (a startup helping people with special needs find jobs).
Having worked overseas and collaborated with people from different nationalities, Anders was grateful how
“working overseas has helped shape my perspective a lot. To witness how developing countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia have this ‘nothing-to-lose spirit’, this is something we Singaporeans can learn from.”
“As long we strive for excellence and are constantly looking to improve, nobody can take away our job.”
Featured photo of Anders Tan (left) with special needs trainees: Inclus