SINGAPORE – It had been nearly 30 years since Mr Samson Teo, 59, took an examination, but the dream of learning how robots tick spurred him to sign up for classes at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) with his sister.
The senior technician had last sat an exam in 1992, when he took his O levels as a private candidate.
For four nights a week, Mr Teo and his sister Jenny Teo, 56, learnt to fix and programme autonomous machines after work, at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio.
In June, the siblings finished the part-time Nitec course in mechatronics and robotics. The course can take up to three years to complete, but they did it in 1½ years.
With a laugh, Mr Teo told The Straits Times that his children and wife initially did not believe him when he said he wanted to go to ITE.
“I told them that I wanted to update myself. So my kids said okay, once you complete your course, we will buy you KFC. And they did so after I got my certificate,” he said.
“Lifelong learning is a principle that I hold fast to,” said Mr Teo, who learns and teaches Chinese calligraphy outside of work.
He wakes up at 4am every day to practise his craft and has been teaching the art form for almost 30 years.
More adult learners like the siblings are taking part-time Nitec and Higher Nitec courses at ITE.
An ITE spokesman said the proportion of adult learners aged 50 and above taking the school’s part-time Higher Nitec and Nitec courses has risen from 5 per cent in 2011 to 9 per cent last year.
Last year saw the highest number of such part-time Nitec and Higher Nitec adult learners at ITE in the last 10 years, he added.
The siblings’ focus and drive to learn as much as possible stood out to all their lecturers, including Mr Wee Yen Ting. The 42-year-old senior lecturer, who teaches mechatronics engineering, said: “It was their first time doing coding for robotics systems. The coding language can be quite long and complicated, but they did not give up. They kept trying until they got it right.”
Mr Wee said Mr Teo even bought his first laptop so that he could practise at home.
Mr Teo was so determined to complete his course that he insisted on taking his final exam in June despite having been hospitalised for two weeks in May because of a serious back injury.
Said Mr Teo: “I got my wife to bring all my books to the hospital so I could study, especially when I could not sleep because of the pain.
“Some of my fellow patients asked me why I was studying even though I was so old. I replied by telling them the Chinese saying that one is never too old to learn.”
Completing the course was no mean feat for Ms Teo either, who signed up for it to encourage her brother.
During the journey home after each lesson, the assistant quality assurance manager had to change buses three times. She would then clear e-mails for her work until as late as 2am.
Learning new skills has helped her become more familiar with the production process at work.
Beyond knowledge, the course has also brought her closer to her brother, she said. “Before classes, we would meet for dinner and help explain concepts to each other.”
While the siblings – who both work at ACM Advanced Technologies, which manufactures medical instruments and semiconductors – signed up for the course to challenge themselves, the skills and knowledge they gained have been timely, said Ms Teo.
Mr Teo had undergone a spinal operation in June, and he has not been able to carry loads beyond 5kg since then.
Said Ms Teo: “Everything just fell into place… With the ITE certificate, he can now operate different instruments and take on lighter duties.”
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