"We don’t realise this, but our ability to go about our lives is largely due to our early childhood educators. They were the ones who taught us how to read and write, and even how to recite our nursery rhymes!” Siti Nurrafidah tells us with a laugh. Now a kindergarten teacher at the MOE Kindergarten @ Tampines, Siti beams with pride as she tells us about the fulfilment she derives from being able to shape the values and beliefs of the five-year-olds under her care.
Siti is concurrently pursuing her part-time Master of Education in Early Childhood under her scholarship offered by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA). As an autonomous agency jointly overseen by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), ECDA seeks to raise the quality standards of early childhood programmes and resources. In facilitating the training and continual development of early childhood professionals, ECDA ensures the finest delivery of knowledge to our young.
We talk to two passionate individuals who are testament to ECDA’s commitment to nurture the next generation of dedicated early childhood professionals.
Tell us what sparked your interest in the early childhood sector, and what you’re currently doing in your early childhood journey.
Siti Nurrafidah: I had always wanted to become a teacher, but it wasn’t until I graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic that I turned an introspective eye to my life and made the decision to become a pre-school teacher.
Siti Nurrafidah binte Samat
Designation: Kindergarten Teacher
Studying: Master of Education in Early Childhood, National Institute of Education
At our kindergarten, we adopt two programmes to educate the children. The Starlight Literacy Programme is meant to develop the children’s early literacy skills through the use of large books and exploring targeted alphabets. One of the books titled ‘Rainbow Kueh’ even inspired our children to do up their own rainbow painting!
The HI-Light Programme supports the holistic development of children and allows them to make better sense of the world around them. For instance, to help them develop their number skills, we took them to a nearby bus stop to count the number of buses that passed them by.
Darius Ng: My decision to pursue a career in the early childhood sector was cemented when I helped out in my church’s kindergarten. I was interested in the day-to-day operations of the kindergarten. I also felt connected to the young children and was excited at the prospect of educating our future leaders.
I am currently pursuing my Diploma in Early Childhood Studies at Temasek Polytechnic under the ECDA Polytechnic Training Award. I know that the knowledge I gain will stand me in good stead for my future career. The Classroom Management module has taught me the importance of exploring multiple perspectives when tackling a problem – sometimes, there is really no single fixed solution.
What are some of the memorable episodes in your early childhood journey?
Siti: I remember when one boy came to school without his twin sister, who was ill that day. When I asked his parents why he chose to come to school, they told me that he insisted on coming because he wanted to play and learn with his friends.
As kindergarten teachers, we usually conclude each day by informing the children of the activities to expect the following day so that they look forward to come to school. It is heartening to know that the young boy did not want to miss out on the day’s activities.
Darius: I still remember a little girl who asked me how to spell ‘Mr Ng’, which was how the Kindergarten One students addressed me. I was puzzled at first, but later learnt that she had drawn a house with the caption ‘I stay with Mr Ng’ in large, squiggly handwriting. That episode was certainly heartwarming.
I also remember a three-year-old girl in the Nursery Two class. She was crying because she was not feeling well. I managed to calm her down by comforting her and turning her attention to her friends. As I was telling her about the day’s activities and the things she could look forward to, I derived a sense of fulfilment because I knew that I was able to make her feel better.
What are some of the challenges you face or foresee yourself facing?
Siti: The part-time master’s degree programme that I am currently pursuing requires me to leave the kindergarten at 4pm twice a week. Juggling work and study can be challenging. I remember having to both submit a portfolio and prepare for a parent-teacher conference in the same week! It certainly cheered me up when the children came up to me with concern and asked me if I was done with my exams. These children don’t realise that the little things they do have a big impact on my motivation to be an even better early childhood professional.
Darius Ken Young Ng
ECDA Polytechnic Training Award Recipient
Studying: Diploma in Early Childhood Studies, Temasek Polytechnic
Darius: As a male aspiring pre-school educator, I hope to change the mindset that the early childhood sector is an inherently female one. I foresee challenges associated with correcting children when they address me as ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’, and with parents who are not accustomed to seeing their children being put in the care of a male educator. Nevertheless, I feel that it is important for children to have a male figure whom they can look up to and feel at ease with.
What opportunities has ECDA provided you with?
Siti: The Innovation Guidance Project titled “Singapore’s Little Treasures” was a joint-initiative driven by ECDA and the National Heritage Board (NHB). Teachers like us attended a training workshop with museum educators so that we could be in a better position to create lesson plans centred on heritage objects. The children were intrigued by the heritage objects we brought back and even requested to go to the museum themselves! We engaged the help of some students from St Gabriel’s Secondary School to chaperone the children around the gallery, and together we created a massive art mural at the end of the day.
Darius: I gave a speech at my training award ceremony. It was an interesting experience because I had never spoken to a crowd with so many bigwigs. It was encouraging to see them nodding their heads in agreement with what I said. This public speaking exposure has certainly built my confidence, which is an important quality that early childhood educators should possess. We have to be confident of ourselves when going down to the children’s level. Our confidence assures children that we can be comfortable with each other.
What else do you look forward to and what advice do you have for aspiring early childhood educators?
Siti: I look forward to mentoring new teachers and would like to be an ECDA Fellow in future. This allows me to work alongside exemplary leaders in the early childhood profession to drive quality improvements in the early childhood sector. For aspiring early childhood educators, you need to know that educating children is both challenging and rewarding, and is a long-term commitment. You need to be patient, tolerant and resilient. It is important to persevere and not to lose sight of your commitment to the children.
Darius: I certainly look forward to applying my theoretical knowledge gained from school in a real-life environment through my internship next year. In this sector, it is the passion for children that drives you. However, passion alone is not enough — as with all other professions, you need to continue to build your competency to keep abreast of the latest developments in the early childhood sector.