Charmaine Heilijgers found herself back in Jakarta after relocating around the world as she grew up.
She had always been fond of maths and science, thus leading to establishing her tutoring company, A for Effort. Charmaine shares with Indonesia Expat the wonders of tutoring and how it makes students grow in confidence.
Charmaine, please tell us about yourself.
I’m from the Netherlands but was born in Jakarta where my parents were working. Growing up, I moved around a lot; primarily between Asia and Europe. After graduating from high school in Jakarta, I continued studying international business at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and then moved to the United States where I completed my MBA in finance.
I spent most of my professional career in Amsterdam working in finance and auditing before I moved back to Jakarta. I moved almost five years ago with my two daughters. I’ve lived in Jakarta for 18 years, on and off. I loved growing up in Jakarta as a child and for me, it’s important to give my daughters the same upbringing I had. I’m a single mother raising my two girls and I want to be able to show them how we as women are capable of achieving anything we strive for.
You spent a few years growing up in Indonesia, and now you’re back. How’s it been so far?
It’s been great. I think the community here is wonderful and Indonesia has progressed in so many ways. The country is continually developing and it’s amazing to see how much has changed over the past few decades. I think, especially for expats, it’s become a great place to live since it’s modernised more and many international products and services are now accessible in Indonesia.
Growing up here, the options were far more limited, and I think the quality of living here has generally increased except for the ever-growing traffic issues we continue to deal with.
Do you notice any changes in the education system now that you’re not an international school student?
In general, there are more options available for students nowadays. The choice among international schools has increased, and international schools have since opened the doors to local students as well. When I was a student, international schools in Indonesia would only accept foreign passport holders. However, after the 1998 economic crisis, many foreigners left the country and international schools started to accept Indonesian students enrolling, resulting in schools becoming even more intercultural.
Likewise, there are also many great local schools available now. National Plus schools offer international curriculums such as the IB program or IGCSE, which has increased chances for both international and local students to continue their education abroad now more so than before.
Looking at the students we currently teach from international schools, I do notice a lot of similarities I had as a student; the same challenges, workload, and pressures these students face to excel. Many students have aspirations to continue their education abroad, and evidently, their current school grades play a vital role in determining which universities will accept them. We have many bright students who turn to tutoring in their final two years to ensure they score their best possible grades during their IB and AP years which are pivotal for their next step.
What are you busy with these days?
A lot! I work best under pressure and I like to stay busy with various things. The more responsibilities and tasks I have, the more energy it gives me and pushes me to work harder. A large portion of my day is spent working, whether it’s training the tutors, coordinating our classes, taking care of our finances and marketing, or strategising our next step.
Besides work, I raise my two gorgeous and very energetic girls while also being very dedicated to working out; an early morning yoga session, an afternoon HIIT workout, or an evening boxing session. Work and my children take up a lot of my time, however, I’ll always ensure that I have some time for myself, time to spend with friends, and time to dedicate to my health and wellness.
I do have moments that I have to stop myself from not overdoing things, but I think it’s a mindset. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, regardless of how busy you get.
That said, I know from my own experience how hard the current closure of the schools for face-to-face lessons is for families. It puts a lot of stress on the shoulders of parents and students. Many students miss direct feedback from their teachers. A tutor who responds to the individual learning needs of a child can be a great help in this situation.
Take us on the journey of A for Effort’s establishment, Charmaine.
When I first moved back to Jakarta from Amsterdam, I was eager to work again. However, it had to be on a part-time basis because my daughters were still very young. I started tutoring students from international schools, focussing on the subjects of maths and economics since they’re closely related to my professional background. Soon, I added science as an option, and the overall demand for tutoring increased rapidly. To keep up with the growing demand, I had to turn the private lessons into small group classes. I eventually hired additional tutors to accommodate the rising number of students.
It was important for the tutors to carry out the lessons using the same approach that the students were used to from my lessons, namely being interactive, engaging, and fun lessons that the students would actually look forward to attending. I also decided to limit our services to only maths and science tutoring because these were the two most requested subjects.
Students notably had to receive the same quality of tutoring and the same overall tutoring experience no matter which tutor was assigned to them. This required finding tutors with the right credentials and personality and to provide them with sufficient training to standardise our teaching method.
We are fortunate to work in close collaboration with several international schools, and we are familiar with the curricula followed at these schools. Teachers often contact us when their students require or have requested additional, tailored personal support. We align our lessons with the student’s curriculum and can therefore provide tailored services to each of our students.
Specialising in a few subjects has allowed us to provide high-quality lessons in a focussed area. Our familiarity with international curricula, particularly in maths and science, gives our tutors the chance to thoroughly understand the material and expectations of the students’ goals.
With a group of dedicated tutors, we now have our own offices and private tutoring classrooms in Kemang offering three formats: private lessons in our classrooms, online Zoom lessons, and home visits.
It’s almost a year since online learning was imposed. What are your thoughts on online tutoring? Do you think this can sustain even post-pandemic?
Looking at our students, I’ve noticed that online learning has impacted them in different ways. Age and personality both play a huge role. We have students who are now performing better than pre-pandemic; they have fewer distractions and are very dedicated to their schoolwork. A void seems to be filled and they’re making the most of this situation. Together with the full, undivided attention of our tutors, they can now catch up on any lost topics and progress ahead of the class. We have also come across many students who have fallen behind since the start of the pandemic so we help them catch up.
A for Effort’s online lessons were first introduced in March 2020. It was important for me that our online tutoring held the same level of interaction, engagement, and fun factor as our regular lessons did – the same experience should be given and never become a passive lesson. We closely monitor to ensure quality with the tutors and through surveys with the students and parents.
Online tutoring will definitely become a permanent service post-pandemic. We have established a tutoring formula that works for online lessons and has proven effective for students. The ease of scheduling an online session brings many benefits to the students and I think we have all become so accustomed to social distancing and living through a virtual world this past year that this will linger on for some time to come.
The regularity of using online platforms has even allowed A for Effort to continue tutoring our students who have since moved abroad during the pandemic. We remain flexible with our working hours to cater to various groups of students, including those living abroad. Our familiarity with the various international curricula, namely the US Common Core, British and Australian curriculums, IGCSE, IB, AP, and more, has allowed us to guide students who have since moved back to their home and are following their local curricula.
In your opinion, is having a tutor beneficial for a student?
Definitely. Tutoring shouldn’t be carried out in a way that students become dependent on tutors. A tutor is there to explain the material, to guide and to help the student see they’re capable. Having a tutor could make a student less confident if the student gets too dependent on them, thus a sense of loss and low confidence appears when taking tests and exams without having their tutor around.
A for Effort places a strong focus on explaining and simplifying the material for the student to apply in various settings. Not memorising, but understanding and subsequently applying their knowledge to different scenarios, which is often what they’re ultimately tested upon. Given the fast pace of their classes at school, students often don’t have the chance to fully dissect and understand the material to this extent on their own.
As long as a tutor is there to help students enhance their confidence and knowledge through a variety of methods, having a tutor can definitely be beneficial for students.
If you could give one piece of advice to our readers on getting a tutor, what would it be?
The tutor should definitely be knowledgeable about the subject matter, to the extent that they can confidently explain the material in a simplified and engaging manner. Engaging and interactive lessons are crucial – it’s the best method to retain the material presented.
The bond between the student and tutor is also very important as the tutoring environment should be one the student feels comfortable to ask any type of question, no matter how silly they might think it is. The tutoring sessions should also be enjoyable to attend because students already spend a large portion of their day in a school environment.
What’s next for A for Effort?
Currently, we’re in the process of expanding by adding more tutors, which is always a gradual process because the tutors need to get sufficient training before they can commence with their lessons.
We’ve received many requests from clients to assist children with a wider range of subjects to accommodate their online learning, particularly for younger students, so we considered adding more subjects to our services. Since our specialty is maths and science, we can only limit our tutoring assistance to these subject fields. If we were to add other subjects, a gradual process would be needed due to the training involved, acquisition of resources, and a thorough understanding of these curricula at the various schools.
This isn’t something I’d like to step into without proper preparation, it’d otherwise impact our tutoring quality. I’d rather stick to maths and science since I don’t necessarily think the demand for other subjects will be as high post-pandemic.
Nevertheless, computer science is a subject that I’m considering expanding into since it’s closely related to our current offering. Many requests for computer science tutoring come in, so I see this as one we might add.
How did you find maths and science when you were in school?
I always liked maths; it was one of my favourite subjects. I liked its challenge and was intrigued by finding the right answer. I found science fascinating since it can directly relate to real-life scenarios.
Nevertheless, I found them both challenging whenever I missed out on some topics. Especially with maths, it became very difficult to follow the subsequent topics and then it snowballs. It takes a lot of courage to ask your teacher to re-explain something in front of a full class of students.
When I attended university, I noticed that several materials taught in my IB maths courses were repeated. I always tell students that the effort they put into their lessons now will definitely pay off and will set them ahead of their class. The more they invest now, the less effort will be required later.
You moved a lot growing up. How did it impact your studies?
It has its pros and cons, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Moving and transitioning into a new school environment is tough for any student, both academically and socially. Adapting to a new curriculum, a new school culture, and new social circles has many consequences. We’ve seen this with several students transitioning from abroad and needing tutoring to help get them back on track.
Growing up in different countries truly opens your eyes to many different cultures and experiences, allowing you to adapt to new environments and new people. These experiences will last a lifetime. Along this journey, you’ll come to see how much you grow as a person. Growing up abroad allows children to learn to.
Although the transitions between schools might have been challenging, ultimately being able to attend international schools allowed me to get a better education than if I’d have stayed in my home country. This also became evident once I started my university degree and I realised that a lot of the material had already been covered in high school.
You want your daughters to have the same upbringing as you did. Why is that?
Growing up as a so-called “third culture kid” has so many benefits that’ll continue to reflect in their future. I, as a child, learned a lot; I was introduced to many things which I wouldn’t have been exposed to if I’d have stayed in the Netherlands all this time. I felt the benefits in my professional life, it was easy for me to adapt to a new work environment and culture.
The international school environment is great for children to grow up in too, with the many subject choices, extra-curricular activities, and generally higher quality of education.
How important is education to you?
Education is very important for anyone, and it extends beyond academic benefits. Students learn to see what they are capable of, increase their self-esteem and confidence, shows them how hard work pays off, and it gives a vital foundation for their future wellbeing.
Within a school environment, students learn how to work together as a team, manage their time, and deal with working under pressure. The importance of a proper education amidst this pandemic has become more evident than ever. My daughters are impacted on several levels, especially on their emotional wellbeing, by not physically going to school.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself, Charmaine.
I am very passionate about dance, fitness, and yoga. I grew up as a dancer, having a background in classical ballet, and eventually turned to various types of dances and travelling to different countries to showcase our performances. I enjoy choreographing and performing – I’m still actively taking dance classes and workshops.
Dance and fitness bring a nice balance to my work life, and I find it important that I devote time to this every day.