While Singapore has made significant strides towards becoming more open-minded about the different pathways to success over the years, there’s a nagging sense that examination results still play a huge part in determining where you end up in life.
Depending on your personal experience, some of you might have heard narratives of how good grades equate to having a promising future, while not-so-good grades are a “dead end”.
To challenge these sentiments, we spoke to three Singaporeans who did not do as well as expected in their GCE ‘N’ and ‘O’ Level examinations to find out how they bounced back from this setback better than ever.
Here’s what they shared.
Doing badly for their GCE ‘N’ and ‘O’ level examinations
When Ken Ng, 30, flunked all his subjects at the GCE ‘O’ Levels 13 years ago, several of his peers mocked him.
One of them even told him “Normal technical students are definitely unable to cope with ‘O’ Levels; told you that you will be wasting your time”.
This was further exacerbated by the fact that education had never been easy for Ng growing up, with him “never really experiencing any academic success even…as a kid”.
“This definitely affected me psychologically in many ways, engraving a mindset of fear and self-doubt within me which made me think that I didn’t have the ability to pursue a higher education.”
Likewise, 35-year-old Muhammad Firdaus’s younger years were riddled with challenges.
“I came from a broken family. My parents were separated. My aunts took care of my siblings while I lived with my dad at that time. I didn’t have any friends back then. My dad was working long hours just to sustain our basic life.”
Aside from growing up in a broken family, Firdaus also did not perform as well as he hoped in his GCE 'N' levels.
He had missed the cut-off point to take his GCE ‘O’ level examinations by just one grade.
Our third profile, 24-year-old Mohamed Solihin, also faced similar challenges in getting into his desired NITEC in Aerospace Technology course at ITE College Central.
“Fortunately, I got into the course. However, my NITEC grades did not meet the 3.5 GPA, and I was unable to apply for direct entry to a three year diploma course in a government polytechnic. Despite two years of effort in ITE, I felt demoralised by my results and confused about my future education path.”
What motivated them
Many of us know what it’s like to feel crushed in our teenage years - it can be very demoralising.
So what motivated Firdaus, Solihin, and Ng to bounce back from these setbacks?
Well, all three profiles have different, yet equally inspiring stories to share.
Roughly three years after taking his GCE ‘O’ level examinations and undergoing National Service (NS), Ng procured a job in a fitness club where he met his manager Aaron Lee, who motivated him to pursue a Diploma in Sport and Exercise Sciences at PSB Academy.
In addition to encouraging Ng, Lee made it easier for Ng to study part time by making adjustments to his work schedule.
During his diploma years at PSB Academy, Ng met excellent lecturers such as Edger Tham and Ong Kaifen.
They were “very passionate about teaching”, and “always made lessons interesting by implementing applicational tools to facilitate students’ learning”.
After completing his diploma in 2015, Ng took a break before continuing with his Bachelor of Science Sport and Exercise Science (Top-up) at PSB Academy, one of the biggest education institutions in Singapore known for its collaborations with overseas universities.
“I had never thought of completing a bachelor’s degree due to my mindset mentioned above, doubting my own academic ability,” admitted Ng.
“However, my spouse and my family believed in me and motivated me, which made me start believing in myself.”
Additionally, Ng’s diploma lecturer Tham motivated him a great deal.
“During the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we had a conversation via LinkedIn, during which he shared quality information with me and encouraged me. I remember him saying ‘focus on your passion and the rest will follow’.”
In the same vein, Solihin told us that he had tried to remain positive after receiving his NITEC results, including reading books, interacting with his peers, and getting advice from family members.
“I set goals for myself and tackled them one at a time. Instead of comparing myself with others, I tried to improve myself. I became more adventurous in learning new skills and knowledge which I felt was worth investing in.”
Ultimately, Solihin’s desire to embark on tertiary education inspired him to explore other alternatives, such as a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Mechanical Engineering at PSB Academy.
Meanwhile, Firdaus had a more sobering tale to tell.
“You do not have the basic qualifications.”
“You do not have the basic education. We can’t employ you.”
“You are not qualified for this job.”
These were some words of rejection that Firdaus faced at interviews back in 2010 to 2019.
This was despite Firdaus knowing that he was both able to work and pick up skills fast.
Confronting these challenges, Firdaus did his research and eventually found his way to a traineeship programme conducted by ITE.
What pushed him to take his studies even further was when his then girlfriend (now wife) offered to sponsor his part-time Diploma in Commerce (Logistics).
“Where I am right now, is the product of her belief in me.”
In 2018, Firdaus went on to graduate with a second class honours degree in Project Management while working in VIKING Life-Saving Equipment as a customer service planner.
However, it wasn’t long before Firdaus began to question where he was in life.
“For the past five years, I had a job I was great at, earned a degree, got married and had two kids. I was getting too comfortable and bored. I asked myself: “What do I do with this degree?” “Where do I want to go?” “What is next?”. I even asked my wife these questions. She wasn’t able to answer them.”
In late 2018, the organisation Firdaus was working at, bought over another Maritime services organisation.
As restructuring in the company began, duplicate roles were dismantled.
Thankfully for Firdaus, the department he was in was crucial to the organisation, which led him to this epiphany: “I need to future-proof myself! I need to be in tech!”.
After doing his research, Firdaus narrowed down the area in tech he wished to specialise in to three domains: Cloud, Machine Learning and Cybersecurity.
He decided to take on PSB Academy’s year-long part-time Diploma in Network Defence and Forensic Countermeasures as it was both the most time and cost-effective option for him.
How PSB Academy has helped them
Firdaus shared that PSB Academy has helped him “build bridges and gateways into the tech world”:
“The great thing about part-time studies is that most of the students are working adults. They have real experiences and up to date industrial practices in hand. My classmates in PSB Academy, especially, have been a great help in helping me to understand technical concepts and jargon in layman terms, and the programme itself has been effective in transiting me into a cybersecurity role.”
A similar view was also shared by Ng, who said that the lecturers in PSB Academy were “genuinely inspiring and invested in helping students learn”:
“I wasn’t a fast learner in academics, which made studies difficult, as usual. But my lecturers played a huge part in my academic success throughout Edinburgh Napier University in Bachelor of Science Sport and Exercise Science (Top-up). Ms. Mariam, Mr. Mark, Dr. Tan Juay Seng and Mr. Khaliq are some committed lecturers who will spend additional time with their students after class or even during their personal time, making sure we understand the topic taught.”
Ng’s views were echoed by Solihin, who added that “understanding and encouraging lecturers” helped him throughout his academic journey at PSB Academy:
“PSB Academy offers a good study-life balance into the academic world, while also providing students with time to enjoy networking with peers and advisors. The environment is multi-national and friendly, and we get to work with people of various nationalities. Throughout my time in PSB Academy, I’ve come to appreciate the school’s efficient learning management system, well-defined course structure, clear learning objectives as well as knowledgeable lecturers.”
Plans for the future and advice for others
Ultimately, all three PSB Academy alumni hope to use their life experiences to help others.
For Solihin who hopes to hone his skills and someday be a successful engineer, a secondary aspiration would be to coach or teach young individuals.
Elsewhere, Firdaus hopes to discover amazing technologies and build some of his own, and become a person who leads with empathy, helping them through their journeys.
Ng, who is currently working as a head coach for kids, expressed a desire to continue in the sports education industry.
He also hopes to dive into the healthcare sector in future, treating adults or elderly with chronic diseases and improving cardiovascular function or even treating children with dyspraxia.
And he had some words of wisdom for those who doubt themselves, just like he did many years ago:
“Do not doubt yourself because no one is born to fail in everything. To share a quote I love, ‘You are halfway there when you stop doubting and start believing.’”
This sponsored article by PSB Academy inspired this writer to consider studying again.