askST@NLB: Going back to school at 50? ST journalist shares what it's like

The Straits Times executive sub-editor Toh Yong Chuan shares his experience juggling part-time studies with full-time work.
The Straits Times' executive sub-editor Toh Yong Chuan added that it was the support of his family, friends and colleagues that enabled him to go back to school while holding a full-time job.
The Straits Times' executive sub-editor Toh Yong Chuan added that it was the support of his family, friends and colleagues that enabled him to go back to school while holding a full-time job.ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE - When The Straits Times' executive sub-editor Toh Yong Chuan started part-time studies at the Singapore University of Social Sciences in January, his daughter Deborah, 12, gave him a new $2 pencil case bought from Daiso and her secondary school's foolscap paper for use in class.

Then, on the first day of school, the 50-year-old forgot to bring his laptop and his son Daniel, a full-time national serviceman, rushed to the university to pass it to him.

"These were things I did for my children when they were in primary school, but now they are doing it for me," Mr Toh said at an askST @ NLB talk at the Central Library in Victoria Street on Thursday (June 20).

In addition, when he took his exams in May, his wife Priscilla, 49, whom he has been married to for 22 years, took leave to lend her support, he said, adding that he did "not too badly" for the exams.

Mr Toh, who was speaking to about 100 people on the challenges of going back to school at 50, added that it was the support of his family, friends and colleagues that enabled him to go back to school while holding a full-time job.

Mr Toh, who joined ST in 2011 as a senior correspondent after 18 years in the civil service, began his part-time studies at SUSS School of Law in January. Classes are held two nights a week during weekdays.

The four-year course costs $167,000, which he is paying for himself using his savings.

The decision to join law school came about in 2017 when the then manpower correspondent saw several retrenchments. "It struck me that you have to make yourself relevant... I want to become a legally-trained journalist," he said.

He also cited a recent news report this month which revealed that the bulk of Singapore residents who were retrenched in the first quarter of this year were professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

While some people have described his actions as reckless, to go back to school at an age where he should be thinking about retirement, Mr Toh said he prefers to see it as a way to "refresh myself, like a computer".

To prepare for his studies, he planned a year ahead, asked friends for advice, and sorted out his finances, including paying off his Housing Board mortgage.

Several attendees asked Mr Toh whether his age would be a challenge in being accepted at a law firm as a trainee when he graduates.

Acknowledging that his age would be a "big issue", he said: "But I'm an optimist. Right now, I'm just taking one step at a time."

He also shared how he and a few classmates who are likewise juggling their family, work and studies have organised themselves into a study group to share notes.

As one of the oldest students in his class, he said he believes his age gives him an advantage because of his life experience.

Another person asked whether Mr Toh has experienced feeling burnt out from "essentially holding two full-time jobs" of studying and work.

While Mr Toh admitted he has felt tired on occasion, he said he is still able to cope, thanks to his wife, who is an assistant manager in a voluntary welfare organisation.

"My wife knows me better than I know myself. She would check in on me and if she thinks I need it, she will say let's go out, maybe watch a movie."

Held at the Central Public Library in Victoria Street, the askST @ NLB monthly sessions are a collaboration between ST and the National Library Board.

The sessions are streamed live and can be played back after the event on the Rings.TV application, which can be downloaded via the Apple App store or Google Play Store.