Equipping the region for tech disruption with Sang Nila Arts Academy


Asia is facing a skills shortage and with more “smart city” initiatives springing up in the region, the demand for skilled workforces capable of running these initiatives will continue to grow. I had the pleasure of speaking with Singaporean entrepreneur, Joseph Koh who is playing an active role in equipping future generations of our ASEAN neighbours with the skills to succeed in the digital age. Mr Koh, who in addition to being the COO of MCP (read previous article for details), has set up the Sang Nila Arts Academy in Indonesia.

Trends in the region

Across the ASEAN region, we generally adopt Confucian values and see the importance of a good education.  In Indonesia especially, Mr Koh noticed that the youth have a voracious hunger for knowledge but lack the opportunities to receive quality education.

Additionally the need for skills upgrading is becoming increasingly urgent as technological advancements continue to reshape the jobs market. The ADB estimates that almost 56% of jobs in Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines are at high risk of automation. (ADB, 2017) This puts many low skilled labourers at risk of being rendered obsolete, even though they may be talented or skilled in their fields. Giving an example, Mr Koh foresees that traditional handicraftsmen may not be able to compete with new technologies such as 3D computers and CNC (Computer Numerical Control).

Riding on the trends

Recognising the aforementioned trends, Mr Koh set up the Sang Nila Arts Academy to provide the Indonesian youth with a Singaporean-style education. Students at his school are taught animation and gaming under a stringent performance-based curriculum that allows only students who show competency in what they have learnt to move up to the next stage, culminating in successful graduates receiving highly recognised certificates from industry giants such as Unity and Autodesk. To ensure that his graduates are ready to perform in the workplace, Mr Koh has also formed a web of industrial partnerships which provides internships for his students, complete with a mentorship program staffed by industry veterans. Through these internships, not only do students gain crucial industry exposure, but also a fast-track to employment as good performance may lead to them being hired after their internship term.

The aim of education is to empower youth to improve their living standards and Mr Koh believes that the lack of money should not be a hindrance for youths who have the desire to learn. As such, Mr Koh has been working with 3rd parties to offer student loans to youths who want to join his school but unable to afford the fees.

For now Sang Nila Arts Academy teaches animation and gaming, but Mr Koh has plans to roll out courses that marry technology with traditional low-skilled jobs. As with the example of the handicraftsmen mentioned above, such talented people may soon be able to enrol in his school to learn how to create digital models and use 3D printers to carve out their designs, so that their traditional craft can have a place in the digital age.

Call to Singaporean companies

Singapore is undoubtedly a global leader in education, evident from our consistently spectacular performance in the PISA rankings. Our ASEAN neighbours also recognise this and thus Singaporean education companies have a huge opportunity to export the Singaporean brand of education overseas. This will enable not only our Singaporean companies to grow in scale, but also bless the youth of ASEAN with the opportunity to thrive in the digital age, which will benefit the whole region.



Asian Correspondent, 2015. High demand drives massive growth of international education in Asia. Asian Correspondent. Available at: https://asiancorrespondent.com/2015/01/demand-drives-massive-growth-of-international-education-in-asia/#CuaPZDeo6k6s0SO4.97 [Accessed December 17, 2017].

ADB. (2017). ASEAN 4.0: What does the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean for regional economic integration?. [online] Available at: https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/379401/asean-fourth-industrial-revolution-rci.pdf [Accessed 17 Dec. 2017].


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