Zanaria Jusary had first thought about pursuing her Master’s in 2008, barely two years after graduating from Al-Azhar University in Egypt, where she earned a degree in religious studies.
But it was a decision she had put on the backburner until almost 12 years later.
Why the wait?
“I thought to myself that maybe I should gain more experience in the working environment first. Then in 2018 when I was ready, I suddenly got up-designated and redeployed to a different unit, so I thought I should continue to learn about the new work,” said Zanaria, who is currently Assistant Head, Youth and Community Education at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS).
Finally, in 2020, Zanaria decided to enrol in a Master of Arts in Education programme conferred by the University of Nottingham, which ranked among the top 20 universities in the UK.
The course was offered by Ngee Ann Academy (NAA), a private education institution in Singapore.
As someone involved in strengthening the Madrasah education system in Singapore, Zanaria felt that a Master’s degree would better prepare her in her role, especially when it came to education pedagogy and improving her research capabilities.
“I can’t just attend one-off education conferences and seminars to understand the challenges that educators face,” shared the 36-year-old, who’d dreamt of being a teacher since the age of five.
It also certainly helped that her organisation partially covered her studies.
However, fellow NAA graduate Lawrence Yeo “wasn’t so lucky” when he decided to pursue his Master of Business Administration (MBA) awarded by the University of Adelaide. An engineer by training, Yeo, 43 had been in the workforce for 13 years before pursuing further studies. This was spurred by a job switch into the social service sector in 2015.
Like Zanaria, Yeo had dallied on deciding to take up the MBA for more than a decade.
“I embarked on the programme after 13 years of working full-time in different roles as I wanted to challenge myself, continue on the path of lifelong learning and most importantly, to do my utmost in making a difference to society [through his current work].”
But thinking realistically about his career path also made him question, “How do I get into a managerial role when I don’t have the education that will prepare me for it?”
While being able to fund the course was a concern for Yeo at first, it was the amount of time required which he found more of a deterrent. There were also worries of whether he could complete the programme, especially when friends warned him that “they knew of people who either took a longer time to complete it due to other commitments or stopped halfway”.
Both admitted that the journey towards higher learning had had its ups and downs.
“The toughest part was when one of my school assignments coincided with my work project,” shared Zanaria, who will be graduating from her two-year programme in 2022.
But she managed to get around the problem by solving her work issues through her assignments, which “was a blessing in disguise,” she laughed.
But the biggest sacrifice both had to make was time with family and friends. As if finding a work-life balance wasn’t hard enough, they had to contend with school as well.
“There were days that I ended up sleeping three to five hours at night,” shared Yeo.
He also hardly had spare time to date or “have daily chit chats” with his then-girlfriend, now-wife.
“I think I missed a lot of social and family gatherings back then,” added Yeo, who’s now Senior Division Lead at the Agency for Integrated Care Pte Ltd.
But it certainly helped that classes were manageable as they were mostly scheduled on Friday evenings and weekends. This was one of the reasons that made Zanaria feel more assured in taking up the course. While she has missed out on certain significant family events, Zanaria still found time to connect with family members as her classes usually occupy only half a day on weekends.
Yeo agreed that the course timetable offered by the Adelaide MBA programme fits in with his schedule as well.
“If you look at many other MBAs, they are usually held on weekday evenings, and it’s a bit difficult especially if you’re tied up with work.”
It also helped that students taking the Adelaide MBA, ranked among the top business schools in Australia, are allowed to vary the number of modules that they take each term.
Zanaria and Yeo are thankful that they had the understanding and support of their colleagues and loved ones to motivate them in the journey towards their graduate degrees. Yeo cheekily added that his “ex-girlfriend” — as he calls his wife — had warned him as a form of encouragement that they could forget about marriage if he didn’t complete his Master’s degree.
“She was telling me, you must do it. If you don’t do it, then I’m not going to marry you,” said Yeo.
Zanaria, who’s married, and has a six-year-old boy, shared that her husband had to pull double duty whenever she was tied up with school assignments, but he did so readily.
Seeing his mummy studying hard had the positive effect of spurring her son to pick up his own books to read, she added.
“I think the message I got from my journey is that no matter where I go, and no matter what I decide to do in my life, I have a responsibility to do it to the best of my ability.”
“So no matter how tired I am or how heavy the workload is, I will always try to execute it as best as I can,” said Zanaria, who is grateful to her husband and son for providing her with the environment needed for her to excel.
“Credit goes to my husband and son who gave me that love and joy, which I think they may have not realised, and how much it contributed to keeping me going and to strive towards excellence.”
Another incentive for Zanaria to complete her studies within the two-year timeframe?
“My son enrolled into Primary 1 in 2022, so I die die must finish [she’s on track to hand in her thesis by February 2022], so that I can focus on his education journey this year.”
Applying lessons learned in real life
Despite having graduated in 2017, one lesson in particular during a module called Fundamentals of Leadership left an indelible impression on Yeo even after all these years.
“The lecturer showed us a cup which she was holding by the handle. But from our point of view, some of us couldn’t see the handle, some could only see her hand and part of the cup, while others saw either the left or right side of the cup. She used this example to show us that all of us have different views in life.”
The class taught him to “look deeper into things” before taking any action and not take things at face value as is often the case.
“For example, if we see someone who is frustrated or angry, we may think that he or she could be just overreacting, but if we asked what happened and why then we could have another point of view on what could have caused this issue. I think it helps one to be a better manager at work.”
For Zanaria, she credits the experience with broadening her perspectives and being able to learn from her fellow coursemates who are in the education industry.
Taking up the course during the Covid-19 pandemic was beneficial too, in unexpected ways.
“Covid-19 happened, and we had to move away from face-to-face classroom learning and adopt e-learning for madrasahs. As we shifted to home-based learning, we had to think of ways to engage the students online, as well as to encourage the teachers to persevere amid the challenging times.”
Zanaria shared that the pandemic also coincided with a module where they learned how to make use of technology to enhance learning.
“It was beneficial because I was introduced to new technologies and tools that are useful in supporting remote teaching and I managed to apply some of the tools to complement our teaching approaches at work,” she reflected.
If there’s one piece of advice Zanaria has to give to those on the fence about pursuing their higher education, it would be to have faith in oneself: “Be confident in yourself and take charge of your personal and professional development.”
Echoed Yeo: “As our life expectancy increases, we need to stay relevant for a longer period in our life in our career. So go full out once you have made up your mind and embark on this journey. We only live once!”
Register for the NAA Future-Ready Postgrad Fair 2022
Register for the Future-Ready Postgrad Fair 2022, happening on February 19, 2022, to find out about the post-graduate programmes offered by NAA and listen to Lawrence and Zanaria share more on their MBA and MAEd journeys. Attendees will also stand a chance to receive exclusive study grants available only at the fair.
For more information, visit www.naa.edu.sg.
This article is also featured on Mothership.