Asia

Julia Gabriel dies at 67 after long cancer battle

Education centre founder Julia Gabriel, a well-known figure in early childhood education, died early yesterday morning after battling cancer for more than 10 years.

She was 67.

Ms Gabriel, a British citizen who was a Singapore permanent resident, opened the Julia Gabriel Speech and Drama Centre for children in 1990 to provide a different learning experience for children.

Her son Mark Gabriel, 44, a director and senior teacher at the centre, told The Straits Times: “She was an incredibly caring and sensitive mother, somebody who was always there for my sister and me, always encouraging and inspiring us.”

Mr Gabriel said she inspired him to be a teacher.

It led him to obtain a master’s degree in education from Cambridge University, specialising in arts, culture and education.

He also spoke about the way she inspired children and even adults to use elements of drama to make it an enjoyable learning process. “Anyone who knows her knew she was always a joy to be around,” he added.

Ms Gabriel’s colleagues, like the centre’s group managing director Fiona Walker, hailed her as a role model who motivated them to “be their best selves”.

Said Ms Walker, who had worked with Ms Gabriel since 1991: “Julia leaves behind a legacy which she built with love, dedication and generous spirit of sharing and teaching.

“For everyone whom she came into contact with, she had empowered and enabled them to really be their best selves.”

The family will hold a private wake, with plans for a memorial service later that the public can attend.

Ms Gabriel was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008. After surgery and chemotherapy, she was given the all-clear.

In 2014, the cancer came back – in the peritoneum, which lines the inside wall of the abdomen. She had surgery and chemotherapy, but the cancer returned again.

Ms Gabriel, who trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the London College of Music, was known for her trademarked teaching methodology: EduDrama.

It combines drama with planned educational outcomes to foster learning through interaction and active involvement in young children.

Mr Gabriel said: “She had a strong belief that incorporating drama elements and role-play into learning was the best way to build people’s confidence and their ability to use language and express themselves.”

Ms Gabriel began teaching in Singapore in 1983, at her home with 21 pupils, including her own children and those of friends.

In 1990, the Julia Gabriel Speech and Drama Centre was opened.

It has a branch in Tampines and six centres overseas – in China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

There are also five Chiltern House pre-schools in Singapore that come under the Julia Gabriel Education Group.

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