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Inspired by teachers, classmates and social workers, O-Level students pull through in the face of adversity

SINGAPORE — When Anthony Oon Han Wei was in Secondary 1, he skipped school for the entire second half of the year, stayed at home and played games instead.

Inspired by teachers, classmates and social workers, O-Level students pull through in the face of adversity

V Raja Padmanathan (left) and Anthony Oon Han Wei (right) — two students who overcame adversity and were among more than 20,000 students in Singapore who collected their O-Level results on Jan 11, 2021.

  • More than 20,000 students in Singapore collected their O-Level exam results on Monday
  • Among them was Anthony Oon Han Wei, who skipped six months of school in Sec 1
  • Another was V Raja Padmanathan, who has lived in a children’s home since age four

 

SINGAPORE — When Anthony Oon Han Wei was in Secondary 1, he skipped school for the entire second half of the year, stayed at home and played games instead.

“I just didn’t have the drive to go to school,” he said.

In his first year at St Gabriel’s Secondary School in 2016, Anthony had few friends, and it did not help that he was an introvert.

His home, a three-room flat in Whampoa where he lives with his parents and sister, was also far from being a conducive learning environment.

As a result, he was retained and had to repeat Sec 1.

Fast forward five years later and Anthony was one of more than 20,000 students in Singapore who collected their 2020 GCE O-Level examination results on Monday (Jan 11).

Out of the 23,688 O-Level candidates who received their results on Monday, 85.4 per cent had five or more passes, up from 85.2 per cent the previous year.

Anthony achieved an L1R5 score of eight points.

“I feel happy,” the 17-year-old said. “I did better than expected.”

For Anthony, the teachers in his life have had a huge impact on him, especially Ms Angelia Pay, his form teacher in 2017.

She was “very strict”, he said, and not just with his studies. She would scold him whenever he failed to show up for guitar ensemble practices, of which she was in charge.

Ms Pay pushed him to seek help from friends for his studies.

The year Anthony repeated Sec 1, he finished in the top 5 per cent of his cohort.

But just as things were going swimmingly for him, he suffered a setback in Sec 3.

He was diagnosed with pneumothorax — a collapsed lung — at the start of 2019, and then again in September of the same year.

He was hospitalised and missed a month of school.

Still, he managed to catch up with help from his classmates and teachers.

From 2019 to 2020, Anthony also tutored a student in mathematics, who went from failing the subject to scoring a B at the Primary School Leaving Examination.

He hopes to enrol in St Andrew’s Junior College and, eventually, become a teacher.

“It’s the job I’m most familiar with,” he said.

INSPIRED BY SOCIAL WORKER

Another student who collected his results on Monday was V Raja Padmanathan, also 17, from Serangoon Garden Secondary School.

This is a boy who, when he was just four years old, was moved to Chen Su Lan Methodist Children’s Home because his mother suffered from a mental illness and his father worked night shifts.

Raja still lives there now, though he declined to talk about his family’s present situation.

He remembers that he did not pay much attention to his studies until Sec 3, when he attended a three-day-two-night camp with his new classmates, where he told them about his family situation.

“I was quite depressed,” Raja said. “But my friends helped me through it.”

With his peers and teachers’ support, he became more motivated and engaged.

In 2020, he was elected to be the class’ chairperson, a responsibility he described as unexpected but also a “blessing”.

The role gave him added responsibility — he had to organise bonding activities for the class, for instance — but also provided opportunities for him to build stronger relationships with his teachers and classmates.

“It allowed me to get to know them better,” Raja said.

As someone who has overcome his own fair share of adversity, he goes the extra mile to befriend classmates who might have relationship or family problems.

When he noticed that a fellow student did not attend school for a while and often ate alone, Raja took the initiative to talk to the student more, which helped the student open up and start attending school more regularly.

He is inspired by his social worker and staff members at the children’s home, some of whom also had problems earlier in life.

“Where they are shows me that failures can be overcome,” he said. “I learned that it’s okay to make mistakes.”

Raja achieved an L1R4 score of 14 points, and he hopes to enrol in a sports- or people-related course in a polytechnic.

“In my home, we always play sports and it’s fun,” the table tennis player said when asked about his choice of polytechnic course.

“For people-related courses, it’s because of the person I admire, my social worker.

“The way he interacts with people really makes me think that it’s a meaningful job.”

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story said that Anthony Oon had missed three months of school because he was hospitalised. He has clarified that he missed one month of school. 

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