What's it like to go back to school at 50? Ask this journalist

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 speaking to about 100 people who attended his talk at the Central Public Library yesterday on his experience of going back to school at an age when most people are thinking of retiring and the sup
The Straits Times executive sub-editor Toh Yong Chuan speaking to about 100 people who attended his talk at the Central Public Library yesterday on his experience of going back to school at an age when most people are thinking of retiring and the support he has received from his family, friends and colleagues.ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

He sees his age as an advantage in class, he tells AskST audience, even as he juggles studies with full-time work

When The Straits Times executive sub-editor Toh Yong Chuan started part-time studies at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) in January, his daughter, Deborah, 13, gave him a $2 pencil case bought from Daiso and her secondary school's foolscap paper to take notes in class.

Then, on the first day of school, the 50-year-old forgot to bring his laptop and his son Daniel, 21, 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 Public Library in Victoria Street yesterday.

And when he took his exams last month, his wife, Priscilla, 49, to whom he has been married 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 weeknights a week. The four-year course costs $167,000, for which he is paying with 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 added.

While some people have described his action as reckless, to go back to school at an age when 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 it would be a "big issue", he said: "But I'm an optimist. Right now, I'm just taking one step at a time."

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

Another person asked whether Mr Toh has experienced burn-out from "essentially holding two full-time jobs". While he admitted he has felt tired on occasion, he said he still can cope, thanks to his wife, 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 would say 'let's go out, maybe watch a movie'."

Held at the Central Public Library, the askST@NLB monthly sessions are a collaboration between ST and the National Library Board. They are streamed live and can be played back after the event on the Rings.TV application, which can be downloaded via Apple's App Store or the Google Play Store.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2019, with the headline 'What's it like to go back to school at 50? Ask this journalist'. Print Edition | Subscribe