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HomesingaporeRetained in Sec 1 due to absenteeism, student becomes peer support leader...

Retained in Sec 1 due to absenteeism, student becomes peer support leader who excels in N-Levels

SINGAPORE — Unable to cope with a personal setback, Pei Hwa Secondary School student Harivaran Paul Kumar took to skipping school practically every day after the first school term in Secondary 1, turning up only one to two days each term for post-examination activities.

Reflecting on the slightly longer path he took in secondary school, Harivaran said that the main lesson he learnt was about resilience.

“People didn’t even realise how hard it was for me to even get myself out of bed to take a step to even go to school in my second year,” he said, adding that it was resilience that eventually took him to where he is today.

The pupil was among some 13,500 students who sat for their GCE N-Level examinations this year and collected their results on Monday.

About 77.2 per cent of the 9,153 candidates who sat the Normal Academic-Level exams this year can progress to Secondary 5.

A total of 9,094 or 99.4 per cent of the cohort were awarded their GCE Normal Academic-Level certificates indicating that they scored at least a Grade 5 or better in at least one subject. 

Another 4,422 Normal Technical candidates sat for the exams, with 97.9 per cent or 4,330 of them obtaining at least a Grade D or better in at least one subject and being awarded the Normal Technical-Level certificate.

One student who received her results was Punggol Secondary School student Cinta Nur Fitriyana Rizzuan.

After her parents went through a divorce, Cinta had to juggle school, household chores and working part-time at a fast-food restaurant — which she started in Secondary 2.

“My mum was struggling a lot financially. And she also was not in a good mental state after the divorce, so I felt bad for her and I felt the need to help,” the 16-year-old said.

Her mother, Ms Siti Farhanah Bakeri, works 12-hour shifts at a catering company.

She said that Cinta would help to cook or buy dinner for the younger siblings — aged 13 and nine — and supervise them until their mother returns from work.

When Cinta first broached the idea with her mother of working part-time, Ms Siti Farhanah said that she was concerned about her daughter’s well-being.

“She has social anxiety. What if she breaks down at work and all that?” the mother recalled.

It helped, though, that Cinta’s grandmother was also working at the same restaurant, so there was someone familiar looking out for the teenager at work, Ms Siti Farhanah added.

Cinta admitted that she found it challenging to socialise with her co-workers and to manage her time, especially for the first few months at work, to the extent that she saw her grades dip — though she did not say how far they dropped.

“When I started working, my time management was really bad. To the point that I forget to do some homework,” she said.

Cinta works 16 hours every weekend during school term, and on weekdays during the school holidays. 

The girl said that some teachers were aware of her situation of juggling work and school, but she “decided not to make it as an excuse for myself”. 

On top of working and studying, Cinta was also the person that her younger siblings and even their mother sometimes turn to for a listening ear.

“We (the siblings) share the same room. So sometimes when they have problems, they just turn and tap my shoulder and go, ‘Kakak, I have some problems I have to tell you about’,” she said, using the Malay term for sister.

“It’s tiring, but I have a soft spot for them because, after all, they are my siblings.”

Cinta scored 16 points for the six subjects she took for her Normal Academic-Level examinations, giving her the option of continuing her education to Secondary 5 or pursue an Architectural Technology course at the Institute of Technical Education via the Early Admission Exercise.

Although undecided on what option she would take, Cinta said that she wants to study hard so that she can qualify to enter polytechnic.

On what advice she would give to her younger self if given a chance, she had this to say: “Definitely better time management. If I managed my time better earlier, I think my grades would have been higher.”

Asked about the favourite part of her education journey, the teenager who bought only markers for herself while treating her mother and siblings to a meal with her first pay, said: “Getting closer to my mum. Actually before this, we were not that close.”

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