City College & O School

Year founded: 2002

Targeting dropouts, City College uses innovative teaching methods to help students complete tertiary education, while leveraging performing arts through O School to create a for-youths-by-youths funding model to sustain its operations.

Focus: Education, Youth

Geographic Area of Impact: Singapore

Model: Hybrid Non-Profit

Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 250 (2009)

Annual Budget: US$ 2.14 million (2009)

Percentage Earned Revenue: 85%

Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Singapore, 2007


National statistics in Singapore indicate that from the approximately 3,500 O-level private candidates each year, only about 70% receive certificates. In a country where education is everything, the students that fail will have to grapple with a system where mainstream schools will no longer accept them. They will likely enter a rehabilitation programme but still not see a path towards educational advancement. At the same time, there is a trend of private schools that charge high fees to neither actively monitor student attendance nor track the academic performance of these students. This perpetuates the cycle of examination failure and the erosion of self-worth for school dropouts.

Innovation and Activities

City College was founded in 2002 to provide an alternative path for high school education in Singapore. The target group is primarily school dropouts from public schools. The strategy is two-pronged.

First, City College seeks to influence other commercial schools to have better service deliveries by exerting market pressure on them. By delivering an innovative and effective curriculum at affordable prices, City College secured about 8% of the market share in a short span of four years. As a result, competitors started to adopt similar practices, which in turn have seen the performance of private schools in Singapore improve by 10%.

Second, City College’s strategy is to accelerate change in traditional practices and policies in government schools. It has managed to attract attention from public school leaders who have visited the college to learn and study its unique student-centred culture and pedagogical  approaches.

To finance lower income youths for the programme, another enterprise, O School, was set up in 2006. O School is a performing arts school that offers street dance training to the public, primarily youths aged from 16 to 25. The school is able to offer employment for youths and also generate profits that are channelled into City College’s bursary fund. Hence, a by-youths-for-youths financing model is created.

To date, City College had enrolled more than 1,200 students; 60% of these students have moved on to tertiary education, while 95% of them have attained a basic high school education certification. O School is currently the leading street dance school in Singapore with a membership base of close to 5,000. It has also created events like The Big Groove, which gained regional recognition as well as choreographed for major events like the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. It is also a centre for advocacy, raising awareness of notable causes through performing arts.

Kenny Low spent six years in youth services, four of them volunteering at a local community services agency and another two years coordinating their tuition services arm before setting up City College. He was motivated by a need for transformation and change in education for O-level private candidates, believing that they should not be limited in their educational options and purpose because of missed opportunities in mainstream schools. At the same time, Low was involved in dance since his school days and experienced how dance can develop confidence. This was what motivated him to set up a social enterprise to promote dance as an outlet of expression while creating jobs for talented dancers.