Back to school at 40

10 August 2016 | Education
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Teng Teng, the oldest full-time undergraduate at NUS this academic year, is a firm believer in lifelong learning

At 40 years old, Ong Teng Teng is pursuing her first degree, making her the oldest full-time undergraduate at NUS this academic year.

However, the gutsy mother-of-two has every intention of keeping up with her younger classmates. Even before officially starting at the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies under the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Teng Teng was already charting out the shortest route to the library, planning her study breaks in between classes and attending orientation activities to pick up tips from seniors.

Formerly a flight stewardess with Singapore Airlines, she traded in her sarong kebaya (traditional outfit worn by Singapore Airlines stewardesses) to start a family after 10 years.

An unfortunate experience soon put her on an entirely new path. Her son developed a painful abscess when he was just a few months old. Seeing how the nurses at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital nursed her son back to health, she was inspired to join the medical profession to “do what they do”.

Under a professional conversion programme offered by the Ministry of Health and Singapore Workforce Development Agency, she took up a nursing course in 2008 at the Institute of Technical Education and was subsequently attached to Ang Mo Kio Thye Hua Kwan Hospital. She went a step further in 2010, enrolling in Nanyang Polytechnic under the sponsorship of the hospital, and graduated with a Diploma in Nursing in 2013.

With the recent launch of the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy which offers Singaporeans aged 40 and above generous subsidies on educational courses, Teng Teng felt that it was an opportune time to continue her learning journey and enrolled into the Bachelor of Science (Nursing) programme at NUS. “I wanted to add on to my knowledge and skills in nursing and learn from one of the top healthcare educators in Singapore,” she explained. This, she added, would help her continue to contribute to the industry after graduation.

Despite having two young children and a considerable age gap with her peers, Teng Teng is not worried about heading back to school. Her only concern will be having to help her son with his Primary School Leaving Examination in 2018 while busy with her own curriculum. “Hopefully, we’ll complement each other rather than compete,” she said jokingly.

When asked if she has any words of advice for mature learners thinking about hitting the books, she offered this anonymous quote: “Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.”

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Teng Teng (front row, 2nd from left) during the NUS Nursing Freshmen Orientation Camp 2016