Why We Need To Make Science Fun For Children
Sarah Tong, the founder and CEO of Big Bang Academy, discusses how to help children love learning about science
Sarah Tong wants kids to love learning. The co-founder and CEO set up Big Bang Academy after studying engineering at the University of Cambridge, then working for five years in investment banking, driven by a desire to inspire children through hands-on science.
The company follows a hybrid learning model, with classes both online and in-person and offers children aged three to 12 a range of courses in six core areas—physics, engineering, biology, chemistry, astronomy and environmental science—teaching skills including observation, investigation, data analysis and problem-solving. The company recently secured seed funding led by Gobi Partners/ Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund.
Here, she explains how Big Bang Academy is revolutionising scientific education in her own words.
When I was six or seven years old, I was addicted to watching TV. My parents were so against it that my dad took the circuit out of the TV. I spent weeks exploring it, and realised it was a fuse problem and fixed it. I’d solved the biggest problem in my life. Everything clicked: I realised learning and knowledge are very applicable to real life, and it was the hands-on experience that made it relevant.
I worked in investment banking for five years. The hours were insane. It made me think: what am I doing? What do I really want to do in life? I realised that a lot of people in working life aren’t very curious about the world, and it was very different from when I was at Cambridge, where everyone was very passionate. I thought: why was there this difference? If everyone was motivated to learn, it would be a very different world. Looking back over my life, it was a very distinct lightbulb moment. Asia’s education system is all about spoon-feeding and memorisation. It really turns people off.
Science at an early age can be very piecemeal. Go on the internet and search for experiments for four-year-olds, and there are loads of random experiments that don’t fit together. Kids need a more structured curriculum. We went through every science curriculum we could find globally to create ours. We then decided to test whether people would pay for these kinds of courses, and it turned out they loved them: in the market, there was nothing like our classes.
We’ve had a lot of difficulties. During the [2019 Hong Kong] social unrest, no one was going out. Then, two months later, Covid hit, and everything moved online. Not having an educational background gave us an advantage because we were more agile. We designed a bunch of online experiments that kids could do; we were the first to do that. People loved us because kids were bored to death at home. We realised we could quit our jobs and go full-time.
As well as educating kids, we’re educating parents: science is everywhere, and it’s not just for geniuses. People associate STEM with coding and robotics only; there’s not a lot of emphasis on science. There’s a gap in people’s knowledge, but kids as young as four can learn about gravity.