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53-year-old working mum graduates as valedictorian

After spending 21 years in the media industry in roles such as multimedia producer and news editor, Madam Hafizah Osman moved to the education sector in 2017 as the head of e-learning at the National University of Singapore.

To perform better in her new job, she went back to school in 2021 – more than two decades after she last pursued formal education – embarking on a master’s degree programme in learning and professional development (MLPD) with Queensland, Australia’s Griffith University, in partnership with the Institute for Adult Learning in Singapore.

On Monday, Madam Hafizah, 53, graduated as the valedictorian of her cohort.

Asked how she juggled work and studies, she told The Straits Times: “Before I took the plunge, I had some reservations, especially in terms of time commitment. Having had experience as a part-time student when I was single and had no family commitments, (I knew) it was... a challenge.”

When she was working as a multimedia producer in Singapore Press Holdings from 1996 to 1999, Madam Hafizah earned her bachelor’s degree in language and linguistics from the Open University UK.

She initially doubted whether she could study again at a much older age.

What helped her make the decision to push ahead was the fact that the further studies would be directly linked to her work, in an area where she started her career. In 1991, she became a teacher after completing her A levels and getting a teaching diploma from the National Institute of Education.

Madam Hafizah said that her family – husband Mohammad Kamarurrashid Kamaruddin and their 21-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son – gave her their fullest support, and reassured her that she was capable of doing her master’s degree.

“My husband is definitely my biggest supporter, cheering me on. And my children were my inspiration as they studied through Covid-19,” she said.

Professor Sarojni Choy from the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University told ST that Madam Hafizah’s maturity and articulation skills made her a top student and an effective cohort leader.

He described adult learners like Madam Hafizah as self-directed and experienced learners who make choices that are relevant and practical to their work.

“They are very protective of their time because they are balancing different kinds of lives – the work life, the family life, the community life and so on. Adult learners are very practical-minded. They want very clear connections between theory and practice,” said Prof Choy.

Besides having her family’s support, another factor that helped Madam Hafizah decide to study for the master’s degree was the fact that 50 per cent of her MLPD programme was subsidised by SkillsFuture Singapore.

Madam Hafizah Osman embarked on a master’s degree programme in learning and professional development with Queensland, Australia’s Griffith University. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Her employer NUS covered another about 20 per cent of her tuition fees as part of its Talent Development Sponsorship programme, an initiative to help its staff embrace continuous learning, adopt new and emerging skill sets, and be future-ready.

This was important to Madam Hafizah as paying for the full cost of the master’s programme herself would have put a dent in the family’s financial resources.

“I have two grown children who are also pursuing higher education. I have to think of financing their education first and foremost,” she said.

Her daughter is pursuing a double degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice/Law at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, while her son will be enrolling for the Computer Science in Interactive Media and Game Development programme, offered by Singapore Institute of Technology/DigiPen Institute of Technology, in 2025 after his national service.

When she began her master’s programme, Madam Hafizah spent the first year learning online due to Covid-19 restrictions. As the appointed cohort leader, she found it challenging to maintain connections online to ensure that everyone had the information they needed, when they needed it.

It was only in their second year that she and her course mates were able to more effectively share ideas with and learn from each other.

Her blended learning experience resulted in her capstone project. She and her team set out to better understand the kinds of resources educators would need to design high-quality blended learning. The result is a self-help toolkit that gives users bite-sized content and resources to design blended-learning.

The toolkit has since been used in NUS. After collecting feedback from users, she and her team are now enhancing it by adding more features to help the community of adult educators within NUS.

Mr Kamarurrashid, 49, a civil servant, said he is immensely proud of his wife’s achievements, and credits her success to her determination and passion for lifelong learning.

“Her thirst for knowledge is unmatched,” he told ST.

He added that he shares her views on the importance of lifelong learning and said it is important for the older generation to keep themselves updated, especially on the latest technological developments, so that they are not left out.

Madam Hafizah hopes to continue her learning, even if it is not through formal pathways.

“You have to continue learning because the world is changing. It’s evolving every single second, and you cannot afford to be left behind,” she said.

SkillsFuture SingaporeADULT LEARNINGHIGHER EDUCATION