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Despite health setbacks, two O-Level students push on to further their studies

SINGAPORE — After being diagnosed with a brain tumour in Secondary 2, Nur Irdina Zakaria had to wake up at 4am twice a week to complete her homework on time. 

Despite health setbacks, two O-Level students push on to further their studies
  • 23,555 students collected their GCE O-Level examinations results on Jan 12
  • 85.6 per cent of candidates had five or more O-Level passes
  • This was comparable to the performance in previous years despite the Covid-19 situation 
  • Among the students, two told TODAY how they overcame the limits of their medical conditions to take the exams

SINGAPORE — After being diagnosed with a brain tumour in Secondary 2, Nur Irdina Zakaria had to wake up at 4am twice a week to complete her homework on time. 

This was because her medications to keep the tumour at bay made her extremely drowsy, making it difficult to focus on her school work. 

On the nights she had to take her medications, she would sleep early and get up at 4am to do the homework before leaving for school at 6.30am. 

The 17-year-old was among the 23,555 students who collected their GCE O-Level examination results on Wednesday (Jan 12).

For the cohort, 85.6 per cent of candidates had five or more O-Level passes, which was comparable to the performance in previous years despite the Covid-19 situation. 

Irdina, who lives in a five-room public flat with her parents and brother, first discovered that something was amiss when she experienced frequent mood swings. 

“Sometimes, I would fly into a rage and be angry at my mum and dad, even over the smallest of things, which was not something I would usually do. 

“I felt guilty for doing that because I didn't know why I did itso I will apologise to them for reacting that way.” 

She was also constantly tired and slept a lot. The teenager, who was used to remembering things well, gradually found it difficult to keep up during lessons in class.

This was when her mother decided to take her to a doctor, who discovered a brain tumour — measuring up to 6cm at its widest — pressing against a blood vessel. 

Irdina recalled: “I was shocked when I found out about the tumour because I didn't expect all these behavioural changes to lead to a condition.

She remembered feeling depressed and guilty because she felt that she did something to cause the tumour to grow. 

My teachers and my family motivated me to try new things and experience life more freely rather than being in a prison with my own thoughts.
Nur Irdina Zakaria

Irdina’s family supported her through this dark period, especially her mother who would comfort her whenever she cried. 

“She would sit me down, pat me on the back and say, ‘Sometimes, things happen and you need to work around it’.

 

Irdina also received support from her teachers at Yusof Ishak Secondary School, who arranged for extra lessons when she missed classes due to medical appointments.

Her school counsellor gave advice on how to manage her condition and encouraged her to work harder towards her goal of performing well for the O Levels. 

“My teachers and my family motivated me to try new things and experience life more freely rather than being in a prison with my own thoughts,” she said. 

Ms Tan Li May (left), the head of students for the year 2021 in Yusof Ishak Secondary School, and Nur Irdina Zakaria (right).

The tumour has since gone into remission. However, Irdina is still on long-term medications to prevent any relapses. 

She received an L1R4 (first language and four relevant subjects) score of 17 and hopes to take up human resource studies in the future because she wants to create a better work environment for people

Another student receiving the O-Level exam results on Wednesday was Paralympian swimmer Colin Soon Jin Guang, 17, who was diagnosed with cone rod dystrophy at a young age. 

This made it difficult for him to read small print or see things at a distance. 

At Mayflower Secondary School, Colin made use of assistive technology tools to help him with his studies, such as a device that helps magnify smaller print. Some of these devices were his own and some were provided by the school.

He was also given an extended amount of time to complete his O-Level papers. 

However, the extra time meant that he had to sit through long hours to complete a single paper, which was a struggle since it was a strain on his eyes. 

“It was very tiring but I trained myself to try and cope,” Colin said. 

Sometimes, you could see that he was tired but he would just take a deep breath, breathe out and say he’s okay.
Madam Linda Wee, an allied educator in learning behavioural support, on Colin Soon

He also had to juggle between preparing for his O-Levels and training for the 2021 Asian Youth Para Games held last month, where he later clinched four gold medals. 

There were periods when the swimmer had consecutive days of training and exams.  

When asked how he pulled through this tough period, he said: “I didn’t have a specific strategy. I went through with it because I knew I had to do it.” 

Madam Linda Wee (right), an allied educator in learning behavioral support, with Paralympian swimmer Colin Soon.

Madam Linda Wee, an allied educator in learning behavioural support, described him as someone with a “never-give-up” attitude.

Despite the difficulties he faced while learning with a visual impairment, Mdm Wee noted that she has never heard him complain.

“Sometimes, you could see that he was tired but he would just take a deep breath, breathe out and say he’s okay.”

Colin, who hopes to become a music composer for film and game music in the future, received an L1R4 score of 13.

He has secured a place in Singapore Polytechnic’s media arts and design diploma course through the Polytechnic Early Admissions Exercise. 

It is an aptitude-based admissions exercise that allows students to apply for and receive conditional offers for admission to polytechnics before receiving their O-Level examination results.

To Colin, his classmates were one of the biggest factors that kept him going. Many of them would help him during class, such as by informing the teacher that the lessons were going too fast for him.

He said: "They were going through the same journey as I was, so we would always try to hang out together and encourage each other."

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