Desire to learn leads to desire to teach
Like all young boys, Vishal Singh aimed to have a cool job when he got older, such as a firefighter or a jet pilot. Maybe both. Growing up in the Caribbean nation of Guyana was certainly no impediment to dreaming big.
But parental pressure being what it is, Singh was compelled to think more practically, so it was computer science that he “fell into” to appease his mother and father. Thanks to hard work, he had the opportunity to study at Queen’s College in Georgetown, considered one of the country’s best schools, followed by two years of computer science at the University of Guyana.
“There was a narrow selection of careers in Guyana, however, which meant computer science jobs were saturated with candidates,” Singh points out. At the same time, the political situation in the country had become very tense, prompting the family to emigrate.
“Dad’s side has lots of relatives in Toronto, so that’s where we went,” says Singh. As teachers, both his parents qualified for self-sponsorship in Canada; their skills gave them enough points for permanent residency. The family landed in Toronto in 2006.
“Despite the fact it was spring and the locals were wearing short sleeves, we put on our winter clothing. It was cold!” Singh says with a smile.
Beyond adapting to the weather, Singh’s parents had to adjust to Canada’s sometimes unkind labour market. The last thing the local economy needed, it seemed, was more teachers. His father found a factory job to make ends meet, while his mother worked as a cashier. It’s not an uncommon story for many new immigrants.
“The move was very hard for our parents,” says Singh. “They had to give up every penny they had for the sake of their two boys.” The comfortable nest egg they had built back home evaporated quickly. “The currency exchange destroyed their savings,” he notes.
Singh began looking for a school in Toronto where he could resume his education in computer studies. He chose Centennial College partly for its reputation, and partly due to the fact the college was familiar with foreign education credentials.
“I enrolled in the Computer Engineering Technology program because Centennial recognized some of my course credits from the University of Guyana.” He found the practical college courses informative and interesting, but sees the benefits of having a university education, too.
“Both college and university are very effective at teaching, but in different ways. University emphasizes theoretical knowledge, while college teaching is done in labs with the technology in your hands. The practical college approach is a little more fun,” he admits.
As part of his program’s co-op education work term, Singh went to Sears Canada to perform vulnerability assessments on the retailer’s servers to analyze its network security risks. The work was challenging, which required him to learn quickly on the job.
With some excellent work experience under his belt, Singh returned to Centennial to pursue a degree in Software Systems Design – one of the first degree programs offered by an Ontario college. He graduated with a grade point average of 4.037, the third highest GPA in the program’s history.
It was while Singh was still studying at Centennial that he became aware of a new Bachelor of Education in Technological Education program offered by York University. Because of the college’s affiliation with York, he was eligible to enter the program seamlessly. The idea of being a teacher, like his parents, intrigued him.
“There are not a lot of teachers who are technologically savvy at the high school level,” says Singh. Despite the surplus of new teachers who can’t find work today, it’s anticipated there will be a shortage of technology teachers in many school boards.
“The pay scale for a software engineer is much higher than that of a high-school teacher. But the connection you make with students is far more rewarding,” says Singh. The program put him in front of grade 10, 11 and 12 students to teach, and he’s encouraged by the feedback he’s received from students and fellow teachers.
Singh also volunteers to tutor high school students in mathematics, English, computer science, biology and physics at Pathways to Education, a program for youth from low-income families. Not surprisingly, many of the new immigrants in the program took an instant liking to Singh, whose journey from Guyana parallels their own.
Singh credits Centennial for putting him squarely on his path to success. Professors such as Nina Jagaric and Ilia Nika provided him with plenty of guidance and insight early on, showing him that a college education opens doors to other opportunities, be it working at a national IT centre, earning a degree or transferring into a major university.
To the surprise of no one, especially his parents, Singh managed to do all three. He’s so delighted with the way his formal education has unfolded, he wants to inspire other immigrants and Canadian students to follow in his confident footsteps.
“I migrated from Guyana to Canada in 2006, and I have been granted numerous life-changing experiences and opportunities because I enrolled at Centennial College.”