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600 students above age of 40 graduate from polytechnics; man, 56, pursued further studies at the same time as daughter

600 students above age of 40 graduate from polytechnics; man, 56, pursued further studies at the same time as daughter
Recent polytechnic graduates over 40 (from left): Geraldin.
PHOTO: Geraldine Lee, Mohamed Nazri

SINGAPORE – About 25,000 students graduated from polytechnics in 2024, from full-time and part-time diploma courses.

Of these, 600 graduates were above the age of 40, said the Ministry of Education (MOE).

The number of graduates in this age group has remained consistent over the past few years, MOE added. 

The ministry said it hopes to see “greater training participation among those aged 40 and above”, following the newly announced SkillsFuture Level-Up Programme, which includes mid-career Singaporeans receiving a SkillsFuture credit top-up of $4,000 from May.

Overcoming her fear of failure

It has always been Madam Geraldine Lee’s dream to achieve academic success, having grown up in a family which struggled financially to put her and her three siblings through school.

At almost 60, she decided to pursue a diploma at Ngee Ann Polytechnic after 30 years in the banking industry, where she did administrative work and assisted managing directors.

She retired from the banking sector in 2015 as she had decided to pursue her passion for caring for children as an after-school care mentor, a role she began in 2022.

However, she found that having O levels as her highest educational qualification limited the jobs in childhood education that she could do.

Pursuing a diploma thus seemed like the best next step for her.

In May, Madam Lee graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a diploma in business administration, specialising in administration and management. 

“I am someone who embraces opportunities, but with some anxiety, because it has been a long time since I pursued formal education,” said the 59-year-old, adding that she had to juggle family responsibilities, her part-time work in the after-school student care industry and her studies. 

“The main hurdle that I knew I had to overcome was tackling tests, exams and quizzes, and I had a fear of failing.”

She recalled her very first online class, where she struggled with the technicalities of using a computer, which she found daunting. 

“I guess the fear of failing and not being able to catch up with technology would be things that most people my age struggle with,” Madam Lee said. 

However, with her family’s support and guidance from her lecturers and her much younger classmates, she managed to excel in her course and become more tech-savvy.

Madam Lee said she will be using the skills learnt during her diploma studies when she interacts with her young charges, and hopes the company she works for will make her a full-time employee.

“It’s quite challenging to take that first step, but once I got over all my ‘what ifs’, learning became enjoyable for me,” she added.

Inspired by his daughter 

Almost 30 years after Mr Mohamed Nazri obtained an Industrial Technician Certificate, he found himself back in a classroom at Singapore Polytechnic.

The 56-year-old decided to take the leap after his daughter, whom he had encouraged to pursue a master’s degree, responded by presenting him with a similar challenge, telling him: “I’ll do it if you do it too.”

Mr Nazri, a technical officer who has worked in the rail industry since 2014, took up the challenge and pursued further studies at the same time as his daughter did.

After more than two years, he graduated with a diploma in engineering, specialising in rapid transport technology.

“I think that when I went for my first class, I was the oldest one there,” Mr Nazri said.

His younger classmates turned out to be his biggest help as they guided him in the use of computers and other tools for his engineering classes. 

“My age didn’t affect anything, because learning depends on how I absorb the knowledge and how I can apply it,” he said.

“It is about how much you want to achieve... and giving it your best.”

During his part-time diploma studies, Mr Nazri had to attend classes at 6.30pm before leaving for his night shift at 10.30pm. He would return home only the next morning. This routine went on for close to 2½ years.

It was tiring, and he had to make many sacrifices, he said, adding that the most tiring times were when he was fasting during Ramadan. 

Mr Nazri said the knowledge and skill sets he obtained have helped him understand the industry more, and he is eager to continue exploring areas like data analytics.

“When it comes to education, I think everyone should just try to go as far as they can,” said Mr Nazri, adding that in addition to his daughter, he hopes his other three children will continue to push themselves academically.

Love for lifelong learning

Although Mr Sik Wee Teng holds several qualifications – a Bachelor of Engineering, a Master of Business Administration and three specialist diplomas – he continues to be driven by his desire for self-improvement and staying ahead in his field.

The 49-year-old assistant general manager of a construction company earned his first degree in 2000, the master’s in 2013, and the first two diplomas in 2013 and 2022. 

He graduated with his third and latest diploma from Temasek Polytechnic in May.

Mr Sik took some of the earlier courses as prerequisites for his work, but it was a challenge for him this time round to study a subject new to him – data science, which was not directly related to his field of 20 years, the construction industry.

He took the subject out of sheer curiosity, he said.

“I also wanted to be more well rounded,” Mr Sik said. “It is always good to have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the work you do.”

He recalled that he was not the best student when he was younger, but started to enjoy learning after his first degree and when he started work, as he saw what he learnt being applied in his daily life. 

“I had to stay up late to do assignments, to meet deadlines, and some of our project meetings were on weekends and lasted till midnight,” Mr Sik said.

“I was thankful that my classmates helped me.”

The weekends and nights sacrificed came at a cost as they impacted the time spent with his three children, now aged nine to 17.

“Something had to give,” said Mr Sik. “But I think it’s good to show your children that you actually want to continue studying as it sets a good example for them.”

He encourages everyone to upgrade their skills to keep their knowledge current and remain employable.

Mr Sik said: “In applying what I know at work to my studies and applying my studies to my work, it makes doing both more fulfilling.”

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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