Inquisitive spirit

At 64, she's going for a doctorate next

Despite Ms Prema Subramaniam's age and many hats - she is a grandmother of two, a kindergarten English teacher, a grassroots leader and a regular volunteer - she is doing a doctorate in entrepreneurship to be completed by next year.
Despite Ms Prema Subramaniam's age and many hats - she is a grandmother of two, a kindergarten English teacher, a grassroots leader and a regular volunteer - she is doing a doctorate in entrepreneurship to be completed by next year.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

At 64, Ms Prema Subramaniam is a grandmother of two, a kindergarten English teacher, a grassroots leader and a regular volunteer.

But despite her age and many hats, she is getting a doctorate in entrepreneurship to be completed by next year.

"I've been working and studying all my life. I can't stand being idle; I'm always on the search for know- ledge and answers," said Ms Prema, who is doing her degree part-time with an Australian university.

She started working fresh out of secondary school at 17 to support her family of nine.

Several years later, she was elated when she could save up enough to take her A-level examinations. Later, she went on to work at a bank.

But the thrill of learning stuck with her over the years, even after she got married, moved up in her career and had two children.

She first earned a diploma in banking and finance in 1986, and another in investment three years later.

She then went on to take a graduate diploma, bachelor's degree and two master's degrees, all in the area of business.

With an inquisitive spirit, there will be lifelong learning. You can't say that you know everything, because the world is always evolving.

MS PREMA SUBRAMANIAM, 64, who is doing her doctorate in entrepreneurship part-time with an Australian university.

Ms Prema, who paid for her studies herself, said "it's never about the paper chase".

She explained: "At work, it's all hands-on, but I wanted to have the theoretical knowledge, too.

"I enjoy applying them together. I always want to know how a simple process, for example, fits into the bigger picture. I find that makes my work more meaningful."

She would attend classes in the evening and find time to study in between household chores and caring for her family. At times, she studied late into the night alongside her two children, who are now aged 38 and 36.

"Having the passion keeps me going. You just don't think of stopping, because even if it is tough, you find satisfaction in it," said Ms Prema, whose husband died of an illness in 2015.

After about 26 years in banking, she quit in 2010 to teach kindergarten children English and literacy, as part of a programme by the Association for Early Childhood Educators.

This was inspired by her volunteer work with the Singapore Indian Development Association, where she would visit young children at their homes to read to them.

"When I was in the bank, I was always dressed in nice suits and heels. But doing this brought me closer to the heartland, and made me realise that I could use my skills to do a little bit for the community," she said.

Besides being an avid reader, Ms Prema also dabbles in sports, including badminton and table tennis.

And to connect better with her Chinese friends, she also picked up conversational Mandarin.

"With an inquisitive spirit, there will be lifelong learning. You can't say that you know everything, because the world is always evolving," she said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2017, with the headline 'At 64, she's going for a doctorate next'. Print Edition | Subscribe