Ethan Barnes on equality to enact and make a change

Ethan Barnes is the head of curriculum and content of Ascend Now. Also as an educator, he believes that strength and ability stem from self and your community, to determine what you are going to accomplish, how you are going to accomplish it, and why you are accomplishing it. Empowerment puts everyone on an equal footing, with the opportunities to enact change and the ability to do so. Understand more about his journey on how he became a big part of a startup company.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about your journey.

A: I was born and raised in Singapore to a Singaporean mother and British father. Having the best of both worlds has allowed me to straddle the fence a little and peep into both gardens. I went to an international school, UWCSEA, here in Singapore and acutely felt the separation between the local schools and the international bubble. I always enjoyed school but knew there was something missing even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I wanted to be a doctor so while waiting for my National Service call up, I worked in a hospital as an Assistant Laboratory Technician. I loved my time there and the opportunities I was given but I found that I didn’t enjoy the work culture as much as I thought I would. I had always known I was going to end up working with children so I fell into my next dream job – teaching. I completed NS and went to study Education and Psychology at Monash University where I had the opportunity to be placed in a few public schools and subsequently volunteer there during my free time. I loved it – it was clearly a calling for me.

During my final year, I met Devi and began working with Ascend Now; I am now the longest-serving cog in our machine except for Devi herself! I never expected that I would work with a start-up, nor that I would be so intricately involved in helping the business evolve. However, I am stoked with where we are as a business but know there are so many more people to reach out there in terms of our educational philosophy and many more learners to positively influence.

Q: Let’s talk about your current occupation or business. What do you do?

A: Since our inception 3.5 years ago, Ascend Now has grown quickly to encompass a team of more than 70 teachers and over 600 students. Our goal is to bridge that gap between learning and enjoyment, vaulting past this common pitfall and enabling our students to gain skills that will serve them well through their academic careers as well as beyond.

We do this through a three-pronged approach. Firstly, each student is different; so why should we be teaching everyone to fit into a square puzzle piece when in reality we all engage with knowledge in our own unique way? Therefore, our personalised approach to learning is the first of our three prongs.

Secondly, we love the fact that we don’t know what future jobs there could be and we want to prepare our kids for a world that isn’t here yet. Our second prong is our push to imbue students with the higher-order thinking skills required to succeed in any given field.

Finally, communication and collaboration. We feel that the social aspect of development is important for us to address with our students to build their emotional literacy and become well-rounded citizens of our ever-changing world.

What I do itself is difficult to clearly define. I teach; build and maintain learner relationships; develop educator relationships and offer advice regarding teaching – I am the first point of contact for our educators; organise systems within the company; organise, run and host events – such as the Ascend Now Bullpens; oversee the HR department, and build partnerships with schools and one-on-one clients.

I’d say I’m a jack of all trades within Ascend Now, but that is very much the culture within the core management team; we have our roles but are always prepared to jump in and help others when the need arises.

Q: How did you come up with this concept and carry it out?

A: Well, Ascend Now began to address a growing need in Singapore. While there are quality enrichment and education centres around the country, we felt that personalised education was an area that was lacking. With that in mind, we developed a simple philosophy and goal to focus our efforts entirely on the student.

When was the last time students were asked what they wanted to learn, when did they last have the opportunity to be a part of their academic journey? We want to give them that opportunity.

We have executed the idea mainly through word of mouth. We build strong, long-lasting relationships with our clients and that earns us a high degree of trust. With their vested interests at the forefront of our minds, we are always able to cater to what they need. These relationships have blossomed and allowed us to grow quickly and organically as our clients pass on stories of success and trust to their family and friends, helping our community to grow.

Q: What about your line of work excites you the most?

A: Change. It’s as simple as that. Education is archaic; the systems were developed well before the more recent industrial revolutions and yet are still so prevalent (and accepted) within society. The pandemic has accelerated what we believe was already the direction forward for education and it’s an exciting time to be a part of that growth. Change in education happens slowly, but we are at the cusp of an educational revolution and I want to be part of it in every single way possible

Q: What has been your most challenging obstacle, and how did you overcome it?

A: Running a business. I don’t care about money; in fact, I hate being involved with it altogether and if I could I’d send us back to an age when bartering was the primary mode of trade. However, being in a very new startup it was important for me to understand the business, finance and marketing aspects of what was occurring. In the early days, we had to do everything and anything – there were only a couple of us! I love learning and my interest in psychology helped me to pick up these tasks relatively quickly but for me, I must put in a constant effort to upgrade my knowledge of the business world. Thankfully, I’ve had some wonderful people in my life that I’ve been able to call on to give me advice on this journey. My dad in particular is someone I turned to heavily as he has been in senior leadership roles for most of his life and understood the ins and outs of running a business and communicating effectively with customers.

Q: What motivates you to go further in your business or career?

A: I want to be better personally. I want to be as well rounded as I possibly can be. I want to eventually be that granddad who sits around with his grandchildren and regales them with stories from the past of things that I was a part of, or things that I tried, or even silly little tidbits of information that I’ve acquired over my lifetime. I want to know as much as possible in the time that I have; I truly believe that learning is a lifelong experience.

In terms of Ascend Now, I want to be at standing at the knife’s edge of the educational revolution. I want to be a part of shaping something that I strongly believe in. I believe that Ascend Now offers the opportunity to show learners, parents and educators alike what education could potentially look like on a more regular basis!

Q: What is the most significant mentality shift, belief shift, or “ah-ha” moment you’ve had in your business?

A: I never realised how slowly the education system changes. I was so naive in school to think that things could be changed at the snap of someone’s fingers. Not so. Education is a monster and it will change but my beliefs that it can be changed quickly have dissipated.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten?

A: Don’t be afraid of being afraid. Sometimes that fear can drive you, sometimes that thing that makes you afraid is the one thing you need for growth.

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