Since becoming an early childhood educator in 1990, Ms Adeline Koh has served in the same PCF Sparkletots centre for 29 years and has even taught children of her ex-students. She continues to enjoy her work as a teacher, as every cohort of children that she has worked with has challenged her ability through their inquisitive minds and interests.

Having been in the industry for almost three decades, Ms Koh has observed a paradigm shift in how Singapore society views — and values — pre-school education.

The vice-principal recalls that her parents were initially strongly opposed to her decision to pursue a career in early childhood education.

“I remember my dad telling me, ‘Why did I support your studies for you to end up changing diapers for children?’” says Ms Koh. “This is what people used to think of the industry.”

Her dad is now her biggest supporter and the sector is no longer seen as just a form of babysitting.

Public perceptions of the industry did not change overnight, but a marked shift occurred sometime in the 2000s. The Outstanding Kindergarten Teacher Award, which recognises the efforts and professionalism of pre-school teachers, was introduced by the Ministry of Education and the Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore) in 2009. Ms Koh received the Outstanding Kindergarten Teacher Award (Distinction) that same year.

She explains that parents are beginning to see the value of early childhood education and the importance of giving their children the best possible start in life.

“Parents recognise that their roles complement those of the teachers and are pivotal in their child’s holistic development,” says Ms Koh. “Beyond nurturing and caring for the children, early childhood educators also help to develop and sharpen a child’s learning abilities.

“These are important in helping every child to build a good foundation in the skills and disposition that they need to succeed in school and life.”

The rise of early childhood training agencies and stricter entry requirements for new recruits are also a reflection that the industry recognises the importance of early childhood educators and the role they play in nurturing the next generation.

Keeping up with the times

With her years of experience, Ms Koh recognises that it is essential for teachers to adapt to new pedagogies and teaching tools that help young children develop and learn.

For example, her students use the camera on tablets to zoom in for a close-up look at the details of flowers and insects during nature walks. They can also take photos with the tablets and have them printed out for journaling purposes. The children are encouraged to write their experiences and create their very own e-book.

Sometimes, her students will say: “Ms Koh is our Google,” or “Ms Koh has bionic eyes”.

“They choose to see the teachers as their ‘tool’ to learning and liken us to the technology available in this tech-driven era,” she says. “I take their comments as a compliment. Even as I try to make their learning more advanced and relevant, I will always make the effort to retain the human touch.”

She believes that the personal touch of a teacher is special.

“Nothing can replicate the bond I have built with every child that I have taught,” she says.