Amarjit Kaur: A rare Punjabi-Sikh working woman of her generation in Singapore

Amarjit Kaur, who retired in 2014 as a Senior Quality Assessor, is described as one of the rare Punjabi-Sikh working woman of her generation in Singapore. Along her career path, she was also principal of Haig Girls’ School, said to be a top primary school in eastern part of Singapore

| Singapore | 3 March 2016 | Asia Samachar |
Amarjit Kaur - PHOTO / Singapore At 50: Sikhs and Their Contributors
Amarjit Kaur – PHOTO / Singapore At 50: Sikhs and Their Contributors

Amarjit Kaur’s life did not follow any conventional educational or professional route. Her achievements – as a student, a teacher and an educational administrator – have been multi-fold and obtained not through the standard or established manner. In spite of taking the path less travelled, she succeeded, at the end of the day, in building a successful leadership career in the education sector that culminated in a 15-year stint as a Senior Quality Assessor in the School Appraisal Branch at Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE). She was one of the pioneers in the office at a time when Singapore decided to focus on a comprehensive review of the assessment process in local schools.

Born in India in 1949, Amarjit hailed from an English-educated Delhi family of professionals and business persons. She moved to Singapore with her parents at the tender age of three years. Her father, a former Indian army officer, found work in a textile company while her mother busied herself as a homemaker bringing up four children in their newly-adopted country. She credits her parents for always emphasising the importance of education to their children. Amarjit has two sisters and a brother. She went to Raffles Girls’ Primary School and Saint Margaret’s Primary School, and then to Saint Margaret’s Secondary School. She was a playful and sporty child. It was her Primary Six teacher who was one of the biggest role models in her life and helped her understand the importance of working hard and doing well in school.

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Amarjit considers herself to be blessed to have been given the unique opportunities in her life. She started teaching with just an ‘O’ Level certificate after her mother encouraged her to go into the profession, which she had been brought up to believe was a highly honourable one. She then went on to the Teacher Training College, where she began learning how to teach while teaching at the same time. Her chance to obtain an ‘A’ Level certificate only presented itself much later. She studied privately for the national examinations only after she had gotten married and had two children. She was also well-settled in her career by then. However, she had the desire and motivation to further develop herself personally and professionally.

Amarjit’s teaching career began at the then-Raymond Primary School and she later went on to spend several years teaching at various schools which included Opera Estate Primary School, Raffles Girls’ Primary School and Telok Kurau East Primary School. During that time, there was no specialisation for primary school teachers. As such, she taught all subjects, ranging from English, Maths and Science to Arts and Craft. This broad-based experience as a generalist held her in good stead during her later years in curriculum development in that it gave her a good grounding for developing teaching content, pedagogy and methodology.

Amarjit went on to serve three years at MOE’s Curriculum Planning and Development Division as a writer. She came up with materials for students labelled as ‘slow learners’ as part of the monolingual curriculum programme, which is now defunct. According to her, it was a challenging assignment as she had to prepare interesting and stimulating content that would be tailored to their specific needs and capabilities.

She then attended a one-year leadership training course, following which she fulfilled a two-year stint as Vice Principal of Yu Neng Primary School, before being appointed Principal of Haig Girls’ School, renowned in the eastern part of Singapore as one of the top primary schools in the vicinity. Amarjit stated that her greatest moment was stepping into the school as it was an honour being chosen to lead a prestigious all-girls premier government school. She had done her family and friends proud. She would be the stalwart head of the school for the next eight years.

Amarjit Kaur - PHOTO / Singapore At 50: Sikhs and Their Contributors
Amarjit Kaur – PHOTO / Singapore At 50: Sikhs and Their Contributors

In 1996, Amarjit was invited by the then-Director of MOE to become an Inspector of Schools. She held that position for three years before moving to England to further her studies. Upon her return three years later, she joined the School Appraisal Branch at MOE as a Senior Quality Assessor. Her primary task was to validate the schools’ processes based on their self-assessment reports and assess the quality of their systems and processes. Her responsibilities also involved training the school leaders and Heads of Departments on the use of the School Excellence Model, training assessors for the validation process, providing consultancy to schools and the writing of materials for the assessment process.

After 15 years as a Senior Quality Assessor, Amarjit retired in December 2014. However, as a result of her passion for and commitment to education, she continues to engage in consultancy work for the ministry, conducting training sessions to pass on her vast knowledge and experience to the education fraternity. Even post retirement, she continues to venture into new areas. Having previously conducted assessments of primary and secondary schools, junior colleges, as well as companies, she is now gaining familiarity with early childhood education by learning to assess pre-schools.

“As the leader of a team of assessors and school leaders, Amarjit contributed significantly to the development and subsequent refinements of the model used by schools for their self-assessment to check on their progress. Through the process, Amarjit played an important role in helping schools to analyse their areas for improvements and build on their strengths for continued growth.

“Amarjit demonstrated a high level of professionalism through her commitment and high standards. She has always been generous in sharing her knowledge and her time to support others. Schools and officers will share of how they had benefitted as a result of being validated by Amarjit or being part of her validation team. It was indeed a joy to work with Amarjit and we will always value her as a colleague and friend.”

– Mr Tham Kine Thong, Director/School Appraisal and Director Programme Coordination Office, Schools Division Ministry of Education

When most people look towards winding down as they reach the 50-year mark in their lives, Amarjit decided to pursue a degree. She was 48 years old when she opted for an Honours degree in English Literature, with a specialisation in Theatre Studies, at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Although she had a slew of professional development course certificates behind her, it had continued to irk her that she did not complete her education. This motivated her to apply for professional development leave and seek out a degree qualification in England.

Despite her initial apprehensions about being a mature student among the 18- and 19-year-olds in her cohort, her experience of university as an adult learner was pleasant and rewarding. Other than the learning that occurred in classes, she developed fulfilling reciprocal relationships with other students of all ages and considers those “the best three years of my life”. Taking advantage of course flexibility at Nottingham, she was able to sit in and contribute to some Master’s courses in Education as well, which added value to her time there. Amarjit stated that those around her had high expectations of her and that motivated her to deliver and contributed greatly to her desire to succeed. She is proud of all her achievements, especially in her roles in curriculum development, as a leader at Haig Girls’ School and as an assessor in the education system.

As one of the rare Punjabi-Sikh working women of her generation in Singapore, Amarjit acknowledged that there were challenges in juggling the dual roles of both a homemaker and carving out a career. She considers herself fortunate for the amount of support she has always received from her family. Amarjit divided the household responsibilities into shifts with her husband, where they both played their parts. Her late father-in- law, also a former Inspector of Schools, always supported her in her work choices. Amarjit’s husband is a retired teacher and her personal legacy includes two children and four grandchildren.

Amarjit continues to place her faith in the intrinsic worth of Singapore’s education system, as evidenced by the fact that educators from many other countries, such as the United States and China, are keen to learn from us. She believes our finished products – our students – are also well-respected internationally. “When you go abroad, it is there that you value our education system.”

Amarjit is indeed proud to have benefitted from Singapore’s education system. Perhaps even more pleasing for her is the fact that she has played an important role, as one of the pioneer assessors, in the development of the education landscape in Singapore.


[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]


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