SINGAPORE - Despite doing well in the Express stream in secondary school, Mrs Kousalya Selvakumar, 34, had to give up her studies when she had her first child at the age of 16.
She spent the next 14 years as a housewife and stay-home mother to her four children.
But on celebrating her 30th birthday, she decided it was time to look into fulfilling her personal and career aspirations.
She loved caring for children and was passionate about helping people. After some reflection and research into the offerings at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), she decided to enrol in the two-year Nitec course in nursing.
She was nervous about going back to studying at 31, and wondered if she could juggle caring for her family with full-time studies.
It helped that she had the full support of her husband, Mr Chithravel Pandy, 46, an operations manager in a logistics firm.
He took on extra duties around the home, including caring for the children when she was busy with her studies.
"I was torn and felt I was neglecting my kids, especially when I had to go on exchange programmes. But they all kept telling me that they were okay and, besides, their dad was there."
The ITE's hands-on learning approach suited her.
"I was very hesitant when I started at ITE. I thought I was going to feel out of place studying with a bunch of teenagers," she said.
"But everything just clicked after a while. The combination of theory and practice was good, and soon I found myself enjoying my studies."
Mrs Kousalya said there were several mature students at the ITE, especially in nursing, and it was inspiring that many excelled and were top students.
"I made many friends and I loved what I studied. I had the opportunity to travel abroad for seminars and exchange programmes in Hong Kong and the United States, where I got to see how healthcare is delivered and the role of nurses.
"It was eye-opening."
She did so well that she made it to the Director's List every semester at ITE College East in Simei and graduated with a Certificate of Merit and grade point average of 3.8, which qualified her to move on to the second year of the diploma in nursing programme at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
She also received the Sinda Excellence Award for excelling at the ITE.
Now in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, she hopes to keep her grades up so that she can eventually go on to take a degree in nursing and realise her ambition of becoming a staff nurse in the paediatric or gynaecological field.
"I still have some way to go, but I am determined to keep on learning. I had to give up my studies to have my first son, but I always felt that there was more I could achieve.
"I am glad that I have had good opportunities at ITE and now at Ngee Ann Poly."
Her children - Surendra, 18, Dhanvin, 10, Davitha, eight, and Vinayak, six - are proud of their mother.
Surendra, who is currently taking the Nitec course in Web applications at the ITE, said of his mother: "She didn't find it easy at first and was always worried if she was neglecting us, especially when she went abroad on the exchange programme. But we have all been pushing her to keep at it.
"For me, she has been such an inspiration. She worked so hard and did so well in ITE. Now, I feel like I have to follow suit and do as well."
Schemes and courses that enabled Mrs Kousalya Selvakumar to skill up and move up
Nursing at ITE
The Nitec course in nursing comprises two components - 15 months of full-time training at ITE College East and nine months of supervised clinical attachment at healthcare institutions.
After completing the course, graduates can register with the Singapore Nursing Board as enrolled nurses and be employed at various healthcare organisations and hospitals.
Enrolled nurses work as an integral part of the healthcare team to assess, plan, implement and evaluate nursing care for patients.
Graduates may also apply to enter a related diploma course at the polytechnics if they attain a grade point average of 3.0 and above.
Moving from ITE to polytechnic
The Early Admissions Exercise for ITE students seeking to enter polytechnic is a discretionary admission exercise whereby students can apply for a course of their choice before their final-year results are released.
It is open to final-year ITE students who have completed their Nitec or Higher Nitec course.
Applicants will need to demonstrate interest in and aptitude relevant to the polytechnic course.
They can choose up to three courses and submit a write-up detailing their aptitude for the selected courses. Those shortlisted will be invited for an interview.
Final selection is based on the interview performance and portfolio.
Nursing at Ngee Ann Polytechnic
The nursing diploma programme at Ngee Ann Polytechnic boasts 38 weeks of clinical attachments in different specialities right from Year 1, giving students plenty of experience and exposure even before graduation.
It also exposes students to the life sciences and provides them with opportunities for overseas immersion trips, internships and service-learning trips.
Upon graduation, students can register with the Singapore Nursing Board to be a licensed professional nurse, and can practise in both the government and private healthcare settings, including at hospitals, polyclinics and community hospitals. They can also work in palliative care.
Some have gone on to work with organisations involved in clinical research trials and other health and education-related fields.
Many also go on to pursue degrees in accredited universities both locally and overseas. For example, Ngee Ann Polytechnic's nursing graduates have been admitted directly into the second year of the nursing degree course at the National University of Singapore. Last year, 40 graduates secured places for this degree programme.
Alternatively, graduates can choose to further their knowledge in a particular field by taking up advanced diplomas such as in chronic disease management.
There is also the Bachelor of Science with Honours in Nursing at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). The two-year post-registration programme is jointly offered by SIT and the University of Glasgow.