Course Manager (DSTA Academy) Tong Chee Kong tells us why he is inspired to teach.
"I learn more when I teach." This is a mantra that Chee Kong lives by.
"I respect whoever taught me and gave me opportunities. Thus, I will not turn down any opportunity to teach because in doing so, I will also learn," he added.
Currently a Course Manager at DSTA Academy, Chee Kong develops and delivers the curriculum for Systems Engineering and Project Management courses. He is also an adjunct lecturer at the Temasek Defence Systems Institute in the National University of Singapore, where he was given the Best Teacher Award in 2005 for the course he was conducting.
A consummate lecturer, Chee Kong has also received numerous positive feedback from his course participants at DSTA. On one occasion, one of his classes presented him with a photo frame containing all their compliments to thank him for his teachings.
"I was very surprised by this gesture. The class went to great lengths to show their appreciation," he said.
But Chee Kong did not start out as a teacher. As a fresh graduate just out of school, he embarked on a career with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) that would later span 20 years. He learnt important skills such as life-cycle planning and systems engineering through managing key projects such as the development of the Coastal Patrol Craft, Missile Corvette and the Changi Naval Base. He performed well enough to be given the Defence Technology Training Award scholarship to pursue a Masters in Explosives Ordnance Engineering at Cranfield University in 1991.
After retiring from the RSN at 45, Chee Kong almost made a career switch to teach at the Institute of Technical Education. However, he felt indebted to the defence sector for giving him opportunities to learn and that it would be a waste of the experiences he accumulated if he switched to other industries. He said: "I could have pursued another career elsewhere but I wanted to nurture the young ones and not let them learn the hard way."
Thus, he made the decision to join DSTA in August 2000 where he held various appointments contributing to the fields of Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Supportability Methodology, and Life-Cycle Management.
Chee Kong was appointed a DSTA College Resident Lecturer in 2007 and was later appointed as a Course Manager at the newly incepted DSTA Academy.
Perhaps the greatest lesson one can take away from Chee Kong is not in Systems Engineering or Project Management, but in his passion for lifelong learning.
"I continually learn and keep myself updated on innovative and contemporary techniques and approaches to provide students with a positive learning experience. I would strive to think of more creative and engaging ways to train and teach so that learners can benefit most from the course. I research, attend courses and subscribe to webinars too.
"I also believe that effective learning connects the classroom to real world, making it a continuous process and as a trainer, I always look for ways to show the participants those connections," he said.
On Chee Kong's teaching methods, Principal Technical Officer (Building and Infrastructure) Asokan S/O T K who attended one of his classes commented: "He is able to share personal life experiences which are invaluable learning assets that cannot be acquired elsewhere."
Like his commitment to teaching and learning, Chee Kong's dedication to the defence sector has won him several prestigious awards - including the Long Service Award for 35 years of service and a National Day Commendation Award in 2010 - in addition to his collection of teaching accolades.
"These would not have been possible without the collective teamwork, commitment and cooperation by all," said Chee Kong. "Essentially, what has kept me here are all the wonderful people I have met and worked with in DSTA and the SAF over the years. It's a family."
When asked if he had any advice for the younger members in DSTA, he said: "Engineers would need to enrich their competencies beyond specific domains in order to manage the challenges in the acquisition and support of the increasing complexities of the technologically advanced systems and capabilities needed for MINDEF and the SAF."
Leaving us with a quote from William Arthur Ward, a critical thinker on education, Chee Kong tells us what he believes makes a good teacher. "The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires."