Two months before his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), Danial Imran Mohammad Aidit, 12, lost his 53-year-old father to colon cancer.
Yesterday, Danial was recognised for his perseverance by his school, while his schoolmates clapped for him. The Lakeside Primary pupil, who collected his results with his mother and two sisters, said: "I feel sad that my father can't be here."
Noting that it was not easy preparing for the national exam while coping with his father's death, Danial said: "I wanted to do my best and make my family proud. As long as I tried my best, I think it is enough."
Like countless others before them, Primary 6 pupils across Singapore returned to their schools to collect their result slips yesterday. A total of 38,942 pupils sat the exam this year, up from 38,808 last year.
The class of 2017 has kept pace with their seniors' showing last year, recording the best performance at the PSLE since the national exam was introduced.
About 98.4 per cent of pupils who took this year's PSLE did well enough to move on to a secondary school, matching the record set by last year's cohort.
Observers are not surprised by the latest cohort's stellar showing.
GIVING HIS BEST
I wanted to do my best and make my family proud. As long as I tried my best, I think it is enough.
DANIAL IMRAN MOHAMMAD AIDIT, whose father died of colon cancer two months before the examination.
National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said it reflects the importance that parents place on their children's education. Still, Dr Seah noted that it would not be realistic to expect continued improvements year after year because "these rates are already at very high levels".
"There will always be small groups of students who will be deemed unsuited to progress to secondary school," he added.
Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, urged the Ministry of Education to continue to level the playing field by deploying good teaching resources to all schools, so that every child, regardless of background and ability, can reach his full potential.
At Frontier Primary, anxious pupils from the pioneer batch filed into the hall to collect their results. The school in Jurong West welcomed its first cohort in 2012.
Its principal, Mr Martin Koh, said the school has seen the children grow "from a group of wide-eyed seven-year-olds into a group of confident individuals who are thoughtful and want to make a difference".
Among those recognised by the school was Talia Astapura, 12. Born with profound hearing loss, she did not let the condition stop her from having a fulfilling school experience. She played the piano at school events and, two months before the PSLE, even took time off to perform at a music festival in Poland.
"I don't think I will give up playing the piano as it helps me to relax," she said. She also represented her school in badminton competitions.
"I learnt the same way as my friends," said Talia, who can follow lessons in school thanks to cochlear implants. "I take the initiative to sit in front to hear the teacher more clearly and clarify any doubts."
Schools islandwide celebrated not only top performers, but also pupils who showed great improvement, overcame the odds or did well in non-academic areas like sports.
At Lakeside Primary, well-rounded pupils were mentioned, as well as those who did well and those who displayed exemplary values.
Among them was Haziq Akasyah, who retook his PSLE this year. The 13-year-old, whose mother was with him, started tearing up after finding out that he did well enough to go to a secondary school.
"I promised my mum that I would do my best this year," he said.
Lakeside Primary principal Wang-Tan Sun Sun said pupils need to know grades are not everything. "I always tell them that this is just one part of their journey."