From Normal stream straggler to ITE lecturer, he now picks up President's Award for Teachers

Mr Jeff Koh has been teaching for 10 years after starting out as an engineer. PHOTO: ITE

SINGAPORE - Struggling through secondary school in the Normal stream, Mr Jeff Koh thought that he was not cut out for academia.

But after retaking his O levels and getting into Singapore Polytechnic, he found his stride and began to top his class.

Now a mechanical technology lecturer at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Mr Koh, 43, sees teaching as a way to give students opportunities he feels he did not have.

This ethos led him to receive the President's Award for Teachers on Thursday (Sept 2).

Mr Koh, who has been teaching for 10 years after starting out as an engineer, told The Straits Times: "I believe that nobody is bad at studying - they just have not met the right teacher."

Mr Koh was one of seven teachers to receive the award from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on Thursday evening ahead of Teacher's Day, which falls on Friday.

They were chosen from 17 finalists, and come from primary schools, secondary schools, the ITE and polytechnics.

The other finalists were among the virtual audience at the ceremony.

In her speech, Madam Halimah highlighted how Mr Koh and other ITE lecturers guided their students to design and assemble face shields for care workers in nursing homes at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said: "Not only did he create an opportunity for his students to apply what they learnt in school to the real world, Mr Koh also taught them a valuable lesson on stepping up to help others in times of need."

The President also said educators have been at the forefront of Singapore's fight against the virus and have gone out of their way to ensure that students stay safe while continuing to learn.

Their sacrifices were also celebrated by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing in his Teacher's Day message, where he also shared a new website, a portal where people can post notes of gratitude to their teachers.

He said: "On behalf of the Ministry of Education, I salute our teachers for your resilience and resourcefulness."

Another recipient of the award was lecturer Tang Iman, 52 from Temasek Polytechnic's School of Informatics and IT.

Over the 15 years that she has been teaching, Ms Tang has continually branched out into new subject areas.

"I have evolved from teaching mathematics to picking up online data science courses and programming. From there, I gradually moved into teaching data analytics," she told ST.

She said that she was deeply touched by the award and the affirmation she has received from her supervisors, colleagues and students.

"I have found it extremely fulfilling to be in a position where I can reach out to many people, both teenagers and adults, and make a difference by helping them."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.