THEY say it takes a village to raise a child. In Ms Adeline Koh's case, it took a pre-school to help her look after three children and enable her to complete a degree at SIM University (UniSIM).

The pre-school teacher, who is single, had worried if she could cope when she signed up for the course in 2010, as she had to help care for her sister Maureen's two children, as well as a boy who had family problems.

But her colleagues at the PAP Community Foundation kindergarten in Tampines East egged her on and went out of their way to help.

One colleague, fellow teacher Neo Hwei Mien, 39, would escort the children to school or to take the school bus, so that Ms Koh could catch up on sleep in the mornings.

Her principal, Ms Norijah Ahmad, 53, even went to her house to babysit the children while Ms Koh attended night classes at UniSIM. Ms Koh, 43, said: "My colleagues are really like my family. I know that in times of need, they are people I can turn to."

Ms Koh, who completed an early childhood education and management degree on an Education Ministry scholarship, is one of more than 2,000 students graduating from UniSIM this week.

Her zest for continual learning was a quality praised by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday at a UniSIM graduation ceremony, as he urged universities to support a "study while working approach".

Addressing graduands at the university's auditorium, he said universities should create open pathways, have courses relevant to the industry, and maintain good standards - three fundamentals that remain unchanged even as Singapore's university sector becomes more diverse.

"An open and flexible system provides attractive alternatives for acquiring a degree while working, and keeps opportunities open for Singaporeans throughout their working lives," said Mr Teo.

He commended UniSIM for having an open admissions approach for its part-time courses, which is reflected in the wide age range of its students.

The youngest is 22, while the oldest was a 75-year-old who graduated in 2011, said a UniSIM spokesman.

Mr Teo said the best proof of quality education is how graduates perform in their jobs. "Seen in this light, getting a degree is not the end of the journey. It is a milestone, albeit a significant and important one, in a continual journey of learning and upgrading," he said.

Ms Koh, who has worked in the same pre-school centre since 1990, thanked her colleagues and family members. "Without them, I really won't be where I am today."

She intends to pursue a master's degree in early childhood next year at the National Institute of Education.