At the age of 12, Ng Chee Heng was told he had brain cancer and the tumours had spread to his spine. He took a year off school to undergo five operations and 30 radiotherapy sessions, which successfully removed the tumours, then returned to Jurong West Secondary with a determination to work hard.
Yesterday, the 16-year-old, who has been given the all-clear, was one of over 11,000 Normal (Academic) students to collect their N-level results.
His determination paid off. He achieved an aggregate of 12 points with three distinctions in combined humanities, mathematics and principles of accounts. Now, he hopes to enter an engineering or accountancy course in polytechnic after finishing Secondary 5 next year.
"At first I kept asking why this (cancer) happened to me but slowly I accepted the facts," said the teenager, who spent four years travelling to school on a scooter bought for him by his PE teacher. "School is more fun, it's easier than being at hospital."
Of the 11,176 N(A) students who collected their results yesterday, 99.7 per cent passed the exam, and 74.6 per cent made the cut for Secondary 5, up from 72.8 per cent last year. Of the 5,120 Normal (Technical) students who also took the exam, 97.5 per cent passed, similar to last year's results.
N(A) students with a score of not more than 11 points can opt for one of around 1,200 places in the Polytechnic Foundation Programme, which lets students skip the O levels and join a one-year preparatory course before entering a related diploma course. N(T) students who complete their secondary education can apply to study at the Institute of Technical Education.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated N-level students, saying: "You have worked hard to get here. I hope that you will continue to do your best - not just in your studies, but in life, too."
He added: "To parents, do be supportive of your children. There are many paths to success, and each child is different. Encourage them to do their best, but guide and support them to find their own ways, and develop their own interests and talents."
At Jurong West Secondary, around 75 per cent of its Secondary 4 N(A) cohort made it to Secondary 5. "Our N(T) students also improved in mathematics this year. This means more are eligible for a lot of ITE courses," said principal Gan Chee Hau.
Mrs Hilda Thong, principal of Pasir Ris Secondary School, said 88 per cent of its N(A) Secondary 4 cohort can move on to Secondary 5, similar to previous years.
One of the school's top N(A) performers is Charmaine Chee, who had eight points with six distinctions. "My mom works hard to provide me with a good family environment, and my grandmother has raised me since young. I want to work hard to repay them," said the 16-year-old.
She hopes to pursue a media and communications or music-related course in polytechnic, after completing Secondary 5 next year.