When class wrapped up for the day last Thursday at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East in Simei, Ms Siti Zarina Samsudin teared and hid her face in embarrassment when her classmates whisked out a cake and burst into song to celebrate her birthday.
It was no ordinary classroom celebration for Ms Zarina, who is marking her birthday in a formal school setting for the first time in more than three decades.
At 49, she is the oldest in her class of 42 students, which has a median age of 17.
"They are like my children, and they'll call me auntie or Cik in Malay," said the mother of three children aged between eight and 19.
A housewife for nearly 20 years, Ms Zarina, who had O-level qualifications, decided to return to school in 2013 when her children were older and could be more independent.
She said: "I wanted to move forward in life and so I decided to ask myself what I can do to be a better person."
After doing an online search, she signed up for two full-time nursing care courses at a private school that lasted for three months each.
Her certifications helped her to secure a job as a healthcare assistant at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in 2014.
During her two-year stint, she was also posted to Yishun Community Hospital.
Working with patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes made her realise that she has a passion for social service.
She elaborated: "There was more of the personal touch involved (in that setting) and I try to provide them with a listening ear when they share problems they face, like difficulties in applying for financial subsidies."
In January, she started a Nitec in Community Care and Social Services course at the ITE in hopes of getting a diploma in social work, and a job as a social work assistant after that.
Last month, her journey as an ITE student was highlighted in a Facebook post by Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, after he met her on a visit to the school.
In his post, he wrote: "(Zarina) studies alongside students who are young enough to be her children, and even joins them for PE lessons. She was soft-spoken, yet so passionate and determined.
"I hope to see more students like Zarina in our institutes."
Ms Zarina urged other students to follow their hearts when it comes to deciding on their future plans.
"I'm a late bloomer, but at least I know where my direction and goal in life are now.
"If I live longer, I'd like to study more, and get a master's degree," she said.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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