Mr Alfred Chong Han Chung was about to embark on an electrical engineering degree when he decided to turn down the university offer and evaluate what he really wanted in life.
His decision led him to his current vocation as a centre principal with Wat Patthar Educare Centre, a Voluntary Welfare Organisation (VWO) childcare centre. Now 35 years old, Mr Chong has worked at Wat Patthar since 2008. Prior to being the centre principal, he was head of administration for the organisation’s student care services and the managing director of a privately-run student care centre.
Said Mr Chong: “I find joy working with children in an environment and context less rigid compared to their schools – working with them not solely for their academic pursuit, but for their holistic needs as well.”
STUDYING TO DO BETTER
In order to plan suitable programmes for the children, Mr Chong decided to hit the books while working. He completed his specialist diploma in early childhood care and education with a private institution in 2011 and obtained his Bachelor of Early Years Education and Care (Honours) from an overseas university in 2013.
However, as he took on more responsibilities, he soon found himself stumped regarding “the questions of authentic learning and the ‘correct curriculum’”.
While doing research online into Master’s programmes, he found the National Institute of Education (NIE) website, and decided to attend NIE’s Postgraduate & Continuing Education Fair (PGCE). He ended up enrolling in a part-time Master of Education programme, specialising in curriculum and teaching in August 2017.
One feature that is popular among those who further their education at NIE is that students can opt to enrol in standalone courses, known as Modular Graduate Courses, that can then be stacked towards a Master’s programme. Each course constitutes four academic units, and several courses are subsidised by SkillsFuture Singapore.
For Mr Chong, who graduated this July, choosing NIE was the natural choice as in his opinion, it is a world-class institution. He appreciated the quality of NIE’s professional development programmes and found that the array of different Master of Education courses suited his needs. “It allows learners to pursue an area of interest to study instead of a general course in education,” he said.
A RICH EXPERIENCE
Besides having to juggle work, studies and family at the same time, Mr Chong also had to adapt to the programme’s rigour and environment. He said: “Unlike previous early childhood education (ECE) settings that were localised to ECE educators, this Master’s programme congregated people from all walks of life, since curriculum and teaching apply to a broader audience.”
Besides local educators and polytechnic lecturers, his classmates – who hailed from countries like the United States, China and India – included educators from other industries and sectors, for example, special needs educators, practising doctors and nurse managers.
“Discourses were rich and the need to keep up was apparent,” said Mr Chong, who added that he managed to engage in the robust discussions by keeping an open mind and being receptive to new perspectives.
He recounted a discussion about educational orientations and intentions that led him to change his perceptions of what constituted a ‘correct curriculum’. “We reviewed several curriculum documents that pledged a learner-centric education, but their true intention was not to focus on education for the learner or individual, but for the society.”
PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE
Besides classroom engagement, the course material itself was deeply engaging for Mr Chong. While some of his existing beliefs about education were altered, others were justified. “I gathered and reaffirmed what would constitute a learner-centric education. Learners’ voices can be promoted in education, and development unique to each individual can be respected.”
With this in mind, Mr Chong embarked on a revamp of the childcare centre’s curriculum. He explained: “My teachers engage children with more learner-centric approaches that are less teacher-directed, and which help the children to construct meaning from their learning.”
Mr Chong was heartened that a recent evaluation of the centre’s first semester returned positive results. He is looking forward to getting more parents on board with his new vision of what an ideal preschool curriculum looks like, and one day, sharing it with his peers as well. In the meantime, he plans to continue learning more about his chosen field of specialisation.
He said: “With its programmes, NIE is very capable of providing you with the academic rigour to emerge a better learner. You will be challenged to think, perform and grow on a whole new level.”
Visit NIE’s August 2020 intake website for more information. You can also learn more about NIE’s programmes and courses at the NIE Postgraduate & Continuing Education Fair 2020 on May 16, 2020. Early registrants will get to redeem an exclusive goodie bag at the event.