| Singapore | 27 July 2016 | Asia Samachar |
A bright and responsible child from the very beginning, her parents held the strong belief that children, even girls, should focus on their studies and be given every opportunity to succeed in life. Her father was one of the Sikh pioneers of post-World War Two Singapore. Through interactions with colleagues and friends, her father picked up what he believed were best values – these were values that he wanted his children to inherit. It comes, therefore, as little surprise that Professor Berinderjeet Kaur emerged to become a successful academician.
Born in the 1950s, Berinderjeet was schooled at Cedar Girls’ Secondary School. Here, she developed a strong liking for Mathematics, which would eventually become her calling in life. She was an active student, taking part in several school activities. She performed exceptionally well and gained entry into National Junior College (NJC) in 1972. By the time she completed her college education, Berinderjeet fell further in love with Mathematics and was determined to read the subject at university. Before enrolling into the University of Singapore, Berinderjeet did a stint as a relief teacher and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She made up her mind that she would become a teacher when she graduated. In a sense, her career path was set for her. When she graduated from university, she joined the Ministry of Education (MOE) as a teacher and trained at the Institute of Education to be a secondary school Mathematics teacher.
In 1980, Berinderjeet was posted as a trained teacher to Macpherson Secondary School. She faithfully and earnestly taught in the school till 1985. During that time, she met many colleagues who had returned to school after having completed their Master’s degree. She too felt that she would be able to better help mould the future of the nation if she furthered her own education. Her school principal was supportive of her decision and helped her signiﬁcantly with the application process. Though of marriageable age, her father was very clear that she should pursue her passions. With the blessings of her parents, she left for the United Kingdom where she specialised in Mathematics education at the University of Nottingham. During her time at the university, she did her dissertation on the achievement of Singapore students in Mathematics. She received a distinction for her thesis and was offered an opportunity to pursue her doctorate on a University of Nottingham scholarship. However, she reluctantly turned it down due to her commitments back home with MOE.
Soon after her return to Singapore, Berinderjeet met her husband and they got married. In 1989, Berinderjeet joined the Institute of Education as a lecturer in the Mathematics department and, three years later, she was awarded a scholarship to pursue her Doctorate in Mathematics education.
It was a tough decision for her to leave her young family behind. With the support of her parents and husband, she managed to pursue her passion and complete her doctoral studies in less than three years at Monash University in Australia. In 1995, Berinderjeet was back at the National Institute of Education and resumed her mission of moulding the future of Singapore by training quality Mathematics teachers. She credits her development and success to Singapore being a meritocratic society, where hard work and excellence are recognised, celebrated and rewarded. In addition, she is very proud of Singapore’s achievements in the ﬁeld of Mathematics and credits it to the hard work and dedication of the people at all levels of the system.
Apart from playing the critical role of training Mathematics teachers for Singapore schools, Berinderjeet continues to ﬁnd ways to improve the quality of instruction. In this respect, she helped establish the Association of Mathematics Educators (AME). She is the founding Chairperson of the annual Conference for Mathematics Teachers in Singapore which has been going on for the last decade. Numerous renowned international academics and researchers are invited annually to speak on a range of topics at the conference. Berinderjeet is also the founding editor of the AME Yearbook published by the World Scientiﬁc press, an annual publication since 2009, focusing on research for practitioners.
Berinderjeet’s work has also seen her building Singapore’s and her reputation beyond the island state’s shore. Internationally, she has been working with various Mathematics educators. Among others, she was appointed as Mathematics consultant for the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2011. TIMSS is an international benchmark study for countries to evaluate the outcomes of their schooling systems. Here, she played a signiﬁcant role in the design of Mathematics tests for the participating countries in TIMSS 2011. In addition, she was appointed a Mathematics Expert for the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2015, a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on Mathematics Literacy. She is also Singapore’s representative to the International Commission for Mathematics Instruction (ICMI). Devoted to the development of mathematical education at all levels, the ICMI is a commission of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), an international non-governmental and non-proﬁt scientiﬁc organisation whose purpose is to promote international cooperation in Mathematics.
Berinderjeet is also a much sought-after speaker at local and international conferences on Mathematics education. She has delivered some 40 keynote lectures at conferences in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, China, South Korea, Denmark, Australia and the United States. In July 2016, she will deliver a plenary lecture at the International Congress for Mathematics Education (ICME)2 in Hamburg, Germany. This conference will witness a gathering of a diverse group of global participants such as teachers and researchers in Mathematics education, teacher trainers and mathematicians, among others. Berinderjeet is the ﬁrst Singaporean to be invited to deliver one of the four plenary lectures at the conference. In addition to being involved in these events, Berinderjeet has spent time as a visiting professor at Boston College in the United States.
In 2006, Berinderjeet was recognised nationally for her contributions to the ﬁeld of Mathematics education and awarded the Pingkat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Administration Medal)3 by Singapore’s President, Mr S R Nathan, on Singapore’s 41st National Day. In 2010, Berinderjeet was appointed a full professor in the ﬁeld of Mathematics education. She is the ﬁrst full professor to be appointed in Singapore for Mathematics education and remains to be the only one so far.
While Berinderjeet has made many sacriﬁces to achieve success nationally and globally, she immediately credits much of her success to her husband, parents and siblings, without whom she would not have made it as far. They provided much-needed support to her in all her academic endeavours. She is also pleased that she adopted her father’s thinking and pushed her daughter to excel in school and life as well. Her daughter has blossomed into a ﬁne young doctor in Singapore.
“Berinderjeet is best described as a doyenne of Mathematics education in Singapore. Many students in the schools have benefited and will continue to benefit from her work which motivates them to learn Mathematics in the most engaging ways. In addition, her work is internationally recognised and has brought many honours to Singapore.
The Sikh community can be proud that it has a member in Berinderjeet, who has contributed significantly to Mathematics education in Singapore, as the community celebrates the nation’s 50th birthday.”
– Professor Lee Sing Kong Managing Director National Institute of Education International
In addition to being actively involved in the ﬁeld of Mathematics education, Berinderjeet is a strong believer in giving back to society, a value she inherited from her parents who were always willing to help anyone who came knocking on their door. Having achieved her goal in life, Berinderjeet decided to spend more of her time giving back to the community and society. She is actively involved in the grassroots organisations in Kebun Baru, the constituency in which she lives.
Within the Sikh community, she is currently the Chairperson of the Singapore Khalsa Association Ladies Wing. The group organises regular social, cultural and health-related activities for ladies of the Sikh community. It also works with external organisations on initiatives that beneﬁt the larger community.
Berinderjeet’s national and international success owed much to her father’s enlightened and forward thinking approach at a time when girls were generally given lesser opportunities to educate themselves and excel in life. Coupled with her family’s support and her hard work and sacriﬁces, Berinderjeet is today one of the most respected and prominent women in the ﬁeld of Mathematics education locally and globally.
[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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