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O-Level results: Success is sweet for student who skipped meals, eschewed tuition to save money

SINGAPORE — He would skip meals in school to save up his daily allowance of S$2.50 for stationeries and school supplies, until one day he collapsed and had to be taken to the sick bay.

Aqil Nasran Shah Nizam Shah (second from left) with his father, Nizam Shah Abdul Hamid, older sister Aqilah Nur Afiqah and older brother Aqil Nasrulhaq Shah.

Aqil Nasran Shah Nizam Shah (second from left) with his father, Nizam Shah Abdul Hamid, older sister Aqilah Nur Afiqah and older brother Aqil Nasrulhaq Shah.

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SINGAPORE — He would skip meals in school to save up his daily allowance of S$2.50 for stationeries and school supplies, until one day he collapsed and had to be taken to the sick bay.

And knowing his family’s financial difficulties, tuition was out of the question for Aqil Nasran Shah Nizam Shah, even though he never got better than a C in mathematics and science.

That was until his O-Level examinations.

On Monday (Jan 13), the Xinmin Secondary School student burst into tears after finding out that he scored a total of 13 points for English and four other subjects. He got B3s for mathematics and science.

Aqil said that success is sweeter when he attained them without burdening his parents with hefty tuition fees.

The 16-year-old, the third of four children, told TODAY: “Both my older brother and sister never had tuition so I don’t feel like I deserve the privilege.”

Finances are tight for the family. Aqil's mother works eight-hour shifts, six days a week as a cashier at a supermarket near their home, while his father drives 12 hours daily with ride-sharing firm Grab.

His 54-year-old father suffers from a heart condition, diabetes and asthma, and his 15-year-old sister was diagnosed with a lung condition since young.

When Aqil was in Secondary 3, he had a health scare, too, due to his habit of skipping meals.

“If I skip meals, I usually drink a lot of water to keep myself full but that day, I just blacked out. The doctor said I had gastritis from not eating at proper meal timings,” he said.

That incident also prompted Aqil to tell his ex-form teacher about his family’s financial situation.

“Since then, she bought me bread every week to make sure I wouldn’t go hungry. I am very grateful to my teachers,” he said.

NEW RECORD

Aqil is one of the 24,409 candidates who collected their results on Monday.

The 2019 cohort has set a record for best showing at the national exam in the last three decades — 85.2 per cent of the cohort attained five or more passes, up from 84.8 per cent in 2018.

In a joint press release, the Ministry of Education and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board said that 99.9 per cent of the candidates who sat for the 2019 O-Levels exam passed at least one subject and 96.5 per cent passed three or more.

Elated with his results, Aqil said: “All my hard work is not for nothing. All the late-night study sessions have been worthwhile.”

He has secured a place in Temasek Polytechnic’s Diploma in Early Childhood Education Development and Education through the early admissions exercise.

His father, Mr Nizam Shah Abdul Hamid, said: “He is one of the most hardworking people I know. I am so proud of his success.”

Aqil has received either the MOE Edusave merit bursary or the Edusave character award every year from Primary 1 to Sec 4 for good grades or exemplary character, Mr Nizam told TODAY.

Aqil said that looking at his parents struggling to make ends meet has made him appreciate the little luxuries in life, like having food on the table and a close-knit family.

“If I become successful one day, I can proudly say that I didn’t come from a family with money and I had to work hard to be where I am,” he said.

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O-Level exam education MOE Aqil Nasran Shah

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