If you’re thinking about going back to school or signing up for a course, read on to find out what wisdom four City Harvest members have gleaned from furthering their education, many years after they’ve left school.
Learning is not reserved for school-going children. In fact, for many adults, the mandatory decade of formal education they went through as youths was just the beginning.
“Learning is not limited to a certain age,” says Sophia Ho. “The ability to learn is a gift from heaven. Therefore, anything that comes from heaven is eternal and not tied to a timeline.”
Sophia, who has been in City Harvest since its early days, is the founder of Vintedge, a digital agency that provides digital marketing and professional technical services. In May this year, she graduated top of her class from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a diploma with merit in business practice. She scored a near-perfect GPA of 3.93.
LEARNING IS A GOD-GIVEN ABILITY
“Learning is human nature—we see it most obviously in a young child. They imitate adults; they are not ashamed to make mistakes, fall and do it again. Unfortunately, our learning nature dwindles with age. Instead of becoming better at learning, many people learn less as they age. Eventually, most people get too busy with life and stop learning altogether,” she adds.
To Sophia, the purpose of learning should not be to achieve something but to grow into the will of God. To have that mentality helps the learner to be undeterred by any sense of inadequacy.
“Our capacity to learn sets the boundaries of who we will be,” she says.
Her first diploma was in visual communications, and Sophia felt the need to do a business course when she started her own agency. While the company was growing consistently, she felt that the IT industry had become so dynamic and competitive that she needed to acquire new skills and innovation to ensure that her business remains healthy, sustainable and progressive.
Phoebe Sung, a graphic designer in City Harvest Church felt the same about her trade. She has been a graphic designer since she graduated with a degree in multimedia design, but she felt that her skills needed an upgrade.
“I was inspired to up-skill when I read an article in the Straits Times where a minister promoted upskilling so that you have the relevant skills,” she explains. “And so I started doing some research on UX/UI.” UX/UI refers to user interface engineering that maximises usability and user experience in things like websites, apps and products.
Using her SkillsFuture credits, Phoebe enrolled on a UX/UI course at Nanyang Polytechnic, learning to design with the user in mind. She had full-day lessons on alternate Thursdays and was required to submit one assignment for each module.
Going back to school after the age of 40 is really difficult, the married mother of two shares. “I wanted to give up so many times, but I told myself that since I’ve signed up for the course, I should just press on.”
RELEARNING HOW TO LEARN
The main challenge for Phoebe was to apply what she had learned in her assignments. She found that she had to unlearn some of the skills she had become so good at so that she could learn to do things in better, relevant ways.
“After 20 years (of working in the graphic design industry), I now realise that the digital scene has changed so much,” she says.
Not only has the trade changed; so has the way lessons are conducted. Yvonne Chua, who has just completed an eight-month course on learning and performance, says that school is completely different from what she was used to.
“The learning is totally different from what I was used to, even in university—it is no longer the same as how our lessons were traditionally conducted,” she says. “There’s a lot of work to be done before the lesson. I was so stressed out for the first lesson because there were so many things I needed to read before the lesson. I couldn’t even make sense of what I was reading. After the first 10 or 15 minutes of introduction in the first lesson, we immediately went into our (Zoom) breakout rooms for discussion, and got down to work.”
When the lockdown happened, Yvonne, a member of CHC’s staff, found herself having some free time on hand. She completed some online courses that she had started some time back, like Excel VBA and Google Apps Script. Once she was done, she used that to streamline her work process and even wrote simple processes for her colleagues and taught them how to use them.
This sparked her interest in teaching adult learners. Last year, Yvonne embarked on a course to learn how to conduct and facilitate courses for adults. Taking this step pushed Yvonne out of her comfort zone.
“It was a huge personal breakthrough,” Yvonne says, explaining how she went from being a quiet worker to being someone who could present her ideas and even network with total strangers. “I had to do things I had never done before, like reaching out to people whom I’d only met once, to ask them to link me up for a project,” she laughs.
This experience, however, did not come without sacrifices. “I had no time to myself; every weekend was spent doing homework and readings. I had no life. It was more stressful than work because it was so intense having to do homework the whole day,” she recalls.
The mother of one also had to sacrifice some of her playtime with her 8-year-old daughter. Still, Yvonne has no regrets. “I think it has enlarged my capacity; I’m able to think in a bigger and broader manner. I feel that’s very rewarding.”
LEARNING BECOMES INTERESTING WITH INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE
John Koh is one who finds joy in learning. He graduated with a diploma in accounts in his youth but after a decade in the industry, decided to change fields. He was working in a VWO then and decided to pursue an undergraduate course in social work at the age of 33. He graduated in 2010 and went on to do a Master’s degree in social work in 2014. His most recent educational endeavour, which he embarked on last year, is a graduate diploma in Gerontology.
“Gerontology became more in demand in 2017,” he describes. That year, his daughter was only 2 and he found that it was not the right time to do the course. “I’d always been interested in it but what motivated me to take on the Master’s programme was when my wife started studying again. Watching her enjoy her studies gave me the desire to go back to studying too.”
As an adult learner, John found that the experience in his workplace helps him to understand his lessons better. “When you’re young and you have no work experience, you cannot really connect with what you’re studying so you just go by the book. When I started to study social work, I really enjoyed it because I already had work experience, plus I had been serving in the Dialect Service looking after the elderly. Whatever I was taught in school, I applied it to my work; what I learned at work, I related back to my studies. Work experience really enhances the learning.”
John also noticed that his grades were a lot better when he was doing his Master’s, compared to his undergraduate studies.
Sophia concurs. She notes that as adult learners, there is no stress over scoring high marks. “Work experience has made learning easier. As the lecturer is speaking, my mind is thinking about how this theory can work in a live working scenario. I can ask relevant questions related to work and invite discussion on a real-life topic,” she says.
Sophia advises anyone reading this who is considering furthering his studies to ask themselves the reason for wanting to upgrade, and if they can visualise the fruit they will enjoy at the end of the learning journey.
“If you are unsure, reflect and identify the thing that is holding you back,” she adds. “You might find that it’s nothing after all. If we want something bad enough, we can work things around to get it. Most importantly, hear from God.”
Similarly, John says, “Pray that God will give you clear directions. If God shows you to go for a particular course, He will give you the grace and favour.”
Communication with family members is another important thing. “Because support is very important, I spoke to my wife and also my daughter,” adds John. “I told my daughter that Papa is studying and on certain days I’ll have to focus on my assignments. It’s actually a good example for the next generation—that’s why my daughter likes to read too!”