ITE to University: An Inspiring Educational Journey
17 November 2022 — As youngsters, many of us may have heard cautionary stories from our parents about how a lack of interest in studying can later adversely affect our opportunities to further our education and get “good careers” in adulthood. This story, thankfully, has a happier ending. It is a motivational tale of how Muhammad Muzaffar bin Mustafa did not let his past grades stop him from continuing his education later in life.
Muzaffar is an Institute of Technical Education (ITE) alumnus and recent National University of Singapore (NUS) Bachelor of Technology (Mechanical Engineering) graduate who wants to share his story with others, in hopes of inspiring others like him.
“While studying at ITE, many of us thought our certificate would be the final qualification we would ever be studying for,” he said. “However, I want people to know that opportunities for furthering your education and expanding your employment prospects do exist. In fact, you might be at the beginning of a really exciting path.”
Living the Dream
Today, Muzaffar is living his best life. He is a devoted husband and father of two wonderful children, holds a job as a Correctional Unit Officer at the Singapore Prison Service, and is an NUS Mechanical Engineering degree holder with a world of opportunities ahead of him.
There was a time when things did not look this rosy. A self-confessed “poor student”, Muzaffar’s O-Level results reflected what he believed was his aptitude (or lack of it) for studying; he consistently scored lowest in Science and Mathematics among all his subjects.
Not seeing much prospect in furthering his education, the eldest of four siblings in a close-knit family decided to start working. Over the next half a year, he took on several part-time jobs after his O-Levels, including being a delivery rider for Pizza Hut—and it was here that his life would take a fascinating turn.
Small Change, Massive Difference
During his time there, several of his colleague delivery riders encouraged Muzaffar to study mechanical engineering, as it covered the fundamentals of engineering and would open new doors for him. Thanks to the influence of his colleagues and the emotional support from his family, the young man went on to pursue a Mechanical Technology certification at Simei ITE.
This time, he made one small change to how he approached his studies. He adopted a ‘work hard and be determined’ mindset. Soon, the difference started to show. Muzaffar was surprised at how well he was doing in his studies, and this motivated him to keep going. He subsequently attained a Higher National ITE Certificate (Higher Nitec) from ITE College East, and thereafter, a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering from Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
After earning his Diploma and working full-time for several years, the man who once saw himself as a poor student made the decision to embark on his most challenging educational journey yet—taking on a part-time degree programme at one of the world’s most prestigious universities, while working full-time at the Singapore Prison Service.
Choosing the Way Forward
With a grade point average (GPA) of 3.8, Muzaffar would have been accepted into any university in Singapore, but he chose the Bachelor of Technology (BTech) programme at NUS. The part-time degree programme would allow him to continue earning a full-time income, something that was especially important to him, as he wanted to be financially responsible because his father had recently retired from the Singapore Police Force.
The opportunity to pursue a degree would also mark a significant milestone in his life. He shared: “When I was an ITE student, I never imagined studying at a local university. Now that the opportunity was in front of me, I knew that being able to attain a degree from NUS would bring closure for me, and complete my educational journey.”
Tailored for Working Adults
Muzaffar described his time in the BTech programme as being “very fruitful and valuable”. He explained: “You get to meet students from different walks of life, some of whom are already holding managerial roles. Learning from their experience and industry knowledge is invaluable.”
He also credited his professors with making the programme more manageable for full-time working professionals. “The professors are very helpful, approachable and easy to get along with. They made themselves available through email and private meet-up sessions after lessons, which allowed me to clear up a lot of the questions I had along the way.”
Continuing, he added: “They also tailored the workloads well, and gave us the schedules of assignments, quizzes, tests and exams in advance, so we could better plan our personal and professional schedules.”
An Opportunity-Filled Future
Looking ahead, Muzaffar is excited about his career options. He is passionate about uniformed services and hopes to continue climbing the ladder at either his current organisation, or other uniformed service organisations in Singapore. In the meantime, he is keeping his options open as he looks for suitable opportunities.
With his NUS BTech (Mechanical Engineering) degree, Muzaffar can also explore an engineering career path, should he decide to do so. For now though, he is grateful for the range of opportunities opening up for him. This would allow him to take care of his family in even more ways.
While on the subject of family, Muzaffar is also grateful that his father found employment with the NUS security team at about the same time as when he was studying for his degree. In addition to being able to catch up with his father at the University whenever he had classes, he also got to share with his father one of the proudest moments of his life: his commencement. To have his father—the man who inspired him to forge a career in Singapore’s uniformed services—be there to watch him make his way up the stage to receive his degree scroll is definitely a memory to be treasured.
Your Journey as an Inspiration
Reflecting on how he has gotten to where he is today, Muzaffar wanted to share a few words with the people who might identify with his story: the working adults who may think of themselves as poor students, but who could now be thinking about furthering their studies.
“When I first started studying again after my O-Levels, I thought I would not be able to make it, but I did. Now, I truly believe that anyone can do it, if you are fully determined. When furthering your studies, know that it is not about grades. It is about proving to yourself that you can do it. It is about inspiring your kids and being a role model to them. It is about motivating others just like you.
“I hope my story is proof of what you too, can do.”