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Gen Y Speaks: How my journey to find a new purpose in life took me from being a tech geek to a preschool principal

As a principal of a childcare centre today, I have to admit that the idea of working with preschool children had never crossed my mind when I was growing up.

Gen Y Speaks writer Puvaneswary G Tanagopal photographed with students.

Gen Y Speaks writer Puvaneswary G Tanagopal photographed with students.

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As a principal of a childcare centre today, I have to admit that the idea of working with preschool children had never crossed my mind when I was growing up.

In my youth, all of my passions and career ambitions were linked to numbers and computers, and I was enamoured by how technology can change people’s lives.

The allure of computers in my younger days opened my mind to the possibilities, and as a result, I pursued a Diploma in Information Technology at Nanyang Polytechnic.

At the time, I thought my options were quite straightforward. Study hard, get good grades, and enter the industry of my choice. Life seemed set on a comfortable trajectory.

As I delved deeper into the world of IT, I found myself piqued by how complex systems operate, and how the ones and zeros make everything tick as it should. There was joy in understanding how numbers work.

In this process, I also gained interest to consider accountancy as a possible career path, due to my growing interest in mathematics, and I believed it was a world where I could excel in. 

So, after graduating in 2007, I entered the world of finance and human resources, making my way through various industries, including advertising and IT over the next nine years.  

In this time, one of my most memorable and fulfilling moments was being involved in financial audits and developing communications plans to update employees about a merger that my company was going through. 

Despite it being a challenging period for my former company, it also provided me with a unique opportunity for growth, as what I did at the time had a large impact on my fellow colleagues’ livelihoods.


But the winds of change blew into my life in 2016.

At the time, I had been regularly babysitting my niece, a toddler, over the weekends. 

I remember one instance when I was rote counting, and she repeated what I said for the first time. My niece’s reaction to this made me feel like I accomplished something immense, and she made my heart flutter in a way that I never felt before.

It was through experiences like these that left a lasting impression about childhood development. 

Slowly, I began to appreciate the intricacies of caring for a child. A child’s mind was far more complex than the computers and financial systems I was already so familiar with.  

And so, as my curiosity about early childhood development grew, it became clear that my heart was leading me in a different direction. 

I found myself at a career crossroads. I now yearned for something different in my career path — a chance to find a new purpose and passion. 

But I realised that switching careers into the early childhood sector was not a simple feat.

It meant bridging a significant knowledge gap and attaining certifications to be a qualified educator.

It was a daunting prospect, but the chance of being a part of a child's first formal learning experience ignited a passion within me that I couldn't ignore.


In May that year, an opportunity knocked on my door as I saw an online job advertisement for an assistant teacher position in Sengkang. Without much hesitation, I applied.

The preschool, Greenland Childcare @ Fernvale, was located close to my home, and despite my lack of credentials in early childhood development, the management gave me a chance and offered me a job.

I remember being excited but also nervous, because this was the stepping stone I needed to transition into this new world. 

What made it even more promising was the support the management provided by enrolling me in Workforce Singapore's Career Conversion Programme for Preschool Educators. 

This was a lifeline, especially for mid-career switchers like me, as it allowed me to juggle work and study simultaneously.

Over a period of 13 months, I immersed myself in the curriculum, absorbing valuable insights into classroom management strategies. I learned how to navigate the labyrinth of emotions in young children and discovered a plethora of engagement techniques to foster a positive learning environment.

It also prepared me to take on the role of a mentor teacher, guiding and supporting newer educators in their journey. More importantly, I was trained to ensure that safety protocols were met.

In a nutshell, the comprehensive training taught me the ropes to become a confident and skilled preschool educator.

One surprising aspect of this journey was the realisation that I am still able to put my previous work experiences to good use.

My computer skills found a home in preparing documents for the childcare centre, adding a technical edge to my current role. My problem-solving skills translated seamlessly into the classroom as I helped preschool children and teachers navigate the challenges they encountered.

For example, we employ an open and transparent communication between the teachers and parents, which helps when conflicts occur.

Just as it was in my former company that was undergoing a merger, clear communication, when done in a constructive manner, will lead to better understanding and collaboration among everyone involved.


I completed the programme in 2017, and with it, I achieved a professional Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education. It was a moment of immense pride for me to accomplish such a feat at 30.

With my newfound knowledge and passion, my career in early childhood took flight. I started as an English teacher that same year.

As the years passed, I continued to grow and evolve in this field, taking on more responsibilities and mentoring new educators who were just beginning their journey.

It was thrilling to be part of a child's first formal learning experience.

Earlier this year, I reached a milestone I could have never imagined back when I was crunching numbers and managing finances.

As I sit down to reflect on my journey, I know my career has taken an unorthodox path, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

It was a hard decision to leave my comfort zone doing something that I was familiar with, and to explore a new world in childhood development. But looking back, it was also one of the most rewarding choices I've made. 

Each day, I wake up knowing that I can make a difference in the lives of these young children, to nurture their curiosity and instil in them the love of learning that may serve them for a lifetime.

I am also deeply committed to supporting my team of teachers in maintaining and enhancing the quality of education in our centre.

But while my journey has been a meaningful one, I can't ignore the fact that the early childhood sector in Singapore faces manpower challenges.

While there's a growing awareness of the importance of early childhood education, there remains a significant shortage of qualified educators.

Last October, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said the annual attrition rate in the sector hovered between 10 and 15 per cent over the last few years, in a workforce of about 23,000 people.

Singapore needs another 3,500 teachers by 2025, the agency said then.

In my view, attracting and retaining talent can also be challenging as the profession is physically demanding and also requires a considerable emotional investment in young children.

The expectations of parents have also changed towards childcare centres and preschools that offer holistic development opportunities for their children.

To keep pace with evolving expectations, I know my industry would need to adopt new learning approaches and adapt to these changes.

With safety in preschools being in the limelight recently, we take a proactive approach to ensure the safety of the children in our care. This involves regular safety audits, implementing strict safety protocols, and providing training to staff on child protection and safety measures.


What all these changes also mean is that there is an opportunity for every educator to pick up newer skills and to develop their career in more meaningful ways.

As the principal of Greenland Childcare @ Fernvale now, I am entrusted with the responsibility of guiding not only the young minds in our care but also the dedicated team of teachers who work with me.

My learning journey, however, did not come to an end. To further develop my career and leadership skills, I embarked on an Advanced Diploma in Early Childhood Leadership at the National Institute of Early Childhood Development.

This allowed me to refine my skills in leadership and people management, qualities essential for my role as a principal who is expected to inspire my team of educators.

At my centre, for example, we provide mentorship and support to address career progression concerns, with the more experienced educators mentoring the newer ones.

For anyone who is contemplating a switch into this industry from another career, there are a bevy of options available to learn the skills needed, as I found out too.

Being a preschool educator comes with a multitude of rewards, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that make it a fulfilling and meaningful career. Witnessing a child’s first steps or their first words is an unforgettable experience.

Also, each day in a preschool setting is unique, and can be filled with surprises and moments of discovery. This variety keeps the work interesting and dynamic.

I’m glad I took that first step to make a mid-career switch all those years ago. It is a journey filled with its own set of challenges, but I know the impact that I’ve made on the lives of the young minds under my care is immeasurable. 

Because of that, it is a voyage worth taking.


Puvaneswary G Tanagopal, 37, is a principal at Greenland Childcare @ Fernvale. She was previously a finance and IT professional and made a mid-career switch through Workforce Singapore’s Career Conversion Programme for Preschool Educators.

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Gen Y Speaks early childhood teaching career switch

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