As a principal of a childcare centre today, I have to admit that the idea of working with preschool children had never crossed my mind when I was growing up.
One surprising aspect of this journey was the realisation that I am still able to put my previous work experiences to good use.
My computer skills found a home in preparing documents for the childcare centre, adding a technical edge to my current role. My problem-solving skills translated seamlessly into the classroom as I helped preschool children and teachers navigate the challenges they encountered.
For example, we employ an open and transparent communication between the teachers and parents, which helps when conflicts occur.
Just as it was in my former company that was undergoing a merger, clear communication, when done in a constructive manner, will lead to better understanding and collaboration among everyone involved.
A NEW START
I completed the programme in 2017, and with it, I achieved a professional Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education. It was a moment of immense pride for me to accomplish such a feat at 30.
With my newfound knowledge and passion, my career in early childhood took flight. I started as an English teacher that same year.
As the years passed, I continued to grow and evolve in this field, taking on more responsibilities and mentoring new educators who were just beginning their journey.
It was thrilling to be part of a child’s first formal learning experience.
Earlier this year, I reached a milestone I could have never imagined back when I was crunching numbers and managing finances.
As I sit down to reflect on my journey, I know my career has taken an unorthodox path, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It was a hard decision to leave my comfort zone doing something that I was familiar with, and to explore a new world in childhood development. But looking back, it was also one of the most rewarding choices I’ve made.
Each day, I wake up knowing that I can make a difference in the lives of these young children, to nurture their curiosity and instil in them the love of learning that may serve them for a lifetime.
I am also deeply committed to supporting my team of teachers in maintaining and enhancing the quality of education in our centre.
But while my journey has been a meaningful one, I can’t ignore the fact that the early childhood sector in Singapore faces manpower challenges.
While there’s a growing awareness of the importance of early childhood education, there remains a significant shortage of qualified educators.
Last October, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said the annual attrition rate in the sector hovered between 10 and 15 per cent over the last few years, in a workforce of about 23,000 people.
Singapore needs another 3,500 teachers by 2025, the agency said then.
In my view, attracting and retaining talent can also be challenging as the profession is physically demanding and also requires a considerable emotional investment in young children.
The expectations of parents have also changed towards childcare centres and preschools that offer holistic development opportunities for their children.
To keep pace with evolving expectations, I know my industry would need to adopt new learning approaches and adapt to these changes.
With safety in preschools being in the limelight recently, we take a proactive approach to ensure the safety of the children in our care. This involves regular safety audits, implementing strict safety protocols, and providing training to staff on child protection and safety measures.
PICKING UP MEANINGFUL SKILLS
What all these changes also mean is that there is an opportunity for every educator to pick up newer skills and to develop their career in more meaningful ways.
As the principal of Greenland Childcare @ Fernvale now, I am entrusted with the responsibility of guiding not only the young minds in our care but also the dedicated team of teachers who work with me.
My learning journey, however, did not come to an end. To further develop my career and leadership skills, I embarked on an Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Leadership at the National Institute of Early Childhood Development.
This allowed me to refine my skills in leadership and people management, qualities essential for my role as a principal who is expected to inspire my team of educators.
At my centre, for example, we provide mentorship and support to address career progression concerns, with the more experienced educators mentoring the newer ones.
For anyone who is contemplating a switch into this industry from another career, there are a bevy of options available to learn the skills needed, as I found out too.
Being a preschool educator comes with a multitude of rewards, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that make it a fulfilling and meaningful career. Witnessing a child’s first steps or their first words is an unforgettable experience.
Also, each day in a preschool setting is unique, and can be filled with surprises and moments of discovery. This variety keeps the work interesting and dynamic.
I’m glad I took that first step to make a mid-career switch all those years ago. It is a journey filled with its own set of challenges, but I know the impact that I’ve made on the lives of the young minds under my care is immeasurable.
Because of that, it is a voyage worth taking.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Puvaneswary G Tanagopal, 37, is a principal at Greenland Childcare @ Fernvale. She was previously a finance and IT professional and made a mid-career switch through Workforce Singapore’s Career Conversion Programme for Preschool Educators.