More seniors going back to school

Lecturer Wong Yi conducting a law class at Temasek Polytechnic for part-time students.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Keen to upgrade and learn new skills, they enrol for part-time diploma courses at polytechnics

A growing number of people, many in their 50s or 60s, are signing up for part-time diploma courses conducted by polytechnics, usually at night.

The polytechnics reported increases of between 15 and over 60 per cent in part-time students in the past few years.

Educators said the uptick in the number of learners is encouraging for Singapore's push for lifelong learning and skill upgrading.

They expect more to sign up for courses, which can be paid for partially with the $500 SkillsFuture credit which kicked off in January for Singaporeans aged 25 and older.

To cater to the demand, more part-time courses and shorter bite-size modules will be added over the next one to two years.

These will be in sectors such as early childhood education, healthcare, precision engineering and biomedical sciences.

Republic Polytechnic's Mr Albert Toh, director of the Academy for Continuing Education@RP, said: "Be it for professional or personal development, we have been seeing an increase in interest for continuing education among seniors."

Ms Tan Suat Peng, director of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Continuing and Education Training Academy, said: "More people are aware of the opportunities for further training and the value in upgrading skills for job promotion and expansion."

Mr Suresh Punjabi, director of Singapore Polytechnic's Professional and Adult Continuing Education Academy, added that people need to ensure their knowledge and skills remain current. This is because jobs and required skills evolve rapidly due to technological advances and the changing global economy.

He said the Ministry of Education and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency have worked with post-secondary institutions to put in place new lifelong learning initiatives, contributing to the increase in adult learners over the years.

Several mature learners said they are keen to learn more, upgrade their skills and pick up new ones for possible career switches.

Mr Gunalan Kandasamy Arumugam, 50, a production planner at Cadbury Enterprises, Cadbury's Singapore-based arm, took up a diploma in engineering (mechanical technology) course in 2014 at Singapore Polytechnic.

"My boss and my wife encouraged me to upgrade. I also thought it would help me progress more in my job," said Mr Gunalan, who completed his O levels in 1984.

"(The course) was very tiring. The next day I'd be struggling to go to work." His classes were held three times a week over 21/2 years.

"But there was a sense of achievement that made me happy. I put in effort and I learnt something," said Mr Gunalan, who hopes to go to university.

Likewise, Mr Ng Chong Soon, 60, enrolled in an electrical engineering diploma programme at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2014 as he felt his Nitec qualification in electrical technology was not enough.

"I have practical knowledge but I wanted to learn the theory," he said. "There are a lot of changes in technology."

Mr Johnnie Chia took a diploma course in digital advertising technology and analytics at Temasek Polytechnic, despite having more than 29 years of experience in marketing management in the petroleum industry.

The 70-year-old adjunct lecturer in Nanyang Polytechnic's school of business management said: "It's important to keep up with new ways of marketing."

He has a degree in economics and philosophy from the then University of Singapore. He also has a master's degree in economics and a diploma in computer studies, both earned via part-time courses.

He used his SkillsFuture credit for a six-week course in basic electrical maintenance at the Institute of Technical Education. "It's not a burden to learn, otherwise I wouldn't be doing it," he said.

Meanwhile Ms Foong Seow Sim, who earned a specialist diploma in nursing (diabetes management and education) from Nanyang Polytechnic this year, said she wanted to gain more knowledge.

"I want to help patients with diabetes have better lifestyle management, diet and exercise," said the 58-year-old, who has a nursing diploma from a training school in Malaysia.

"The classes were quite stressful. Sometimes I would be very tired and had to skip dinner," said the senior staff nurse at a polyclinic in Bukit Merah. "But I learnt a lot and it's helpful for my work."

63-year-old keeps mind and body fit

Mr Lim (centre) goes for martial arts classes in wing chun and aikido every week, and has a blue belt in aikido. The freelance financial adviser enjoys picking up new skills, and graduated with a specialist diploma in business analytics from Republic Polytechnic this year.

Mr Sebastian Lim has an accountancy degree from the then University of Singapore, from which he graduated in 1979, but that has not been enough for him.

The 63-year-old freelance financial adviser enjoys going for all sorts of classes to pick up new skills, from data analytics to martial arts.

He earned a specialist diploma in business analytics from Republic Polytechnic this year, after a year of classes which cost him less than $500 after subsidies.

Mr Lim, whose wife is also a financial adviser, attended night classes three times a week at the polytechnic's campus in Woodlands. He lives in Bedok.

"I read in the news about data analytics and I found it interesting in terms of how it is used to predict trends," he said. "It's a bit challenging after so many years of not being in school, especially when the course involved some mathematics and statistics. We also had to learn SQL, a data-based language."

But Mr Lim, who worked as an accountant for more than 20 years, said: "Is there an age limit to learning? Learning a new skill is an asset in life. My daughter has an online business and maybe what I've learnt can help her in customer analytics. It is also useful for businesses. It helps in decision-making and knowing how to make use of data."

Next, he wants to take classes in social sciences to "keep an open mind" and "understand social issues better".

He goes for martial arts classes in wing chun and aikido every week. "I'm still fit, and I want to learn self-defence," he said.


465 students graduated this year, compared with 445 last year and 519 in 2014.

970 students last year, up from 830 in 2014.
Received 2,070 applications last year, up from 1,620 in 2014.

202 graduates last year, an increase from 136 in 2014.

747 students graduated last year, up from 457 in 2014.

672 graduates last year, compared with 465 in 2014.

This article was first published on May 16, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.