SINGAPORE - For the past 10 years in his primary and secondary school days, Aqil Nasran Shah Nizam Shah's typical recess meal has been either a chicken pau (steamed bun) or siew mai (steamed dumpling).
And those were the good days. Some days, he did not eat till dinner time - all to cut costs for his parents, who were facing financial trouble due to medical issues.
Aqil has even been "earning" money for the family. Every year, since he was in Primary 1, he got at least one award from the Education Ministry for good grades or leadership qualities, such as the Edusave Merit Bursary and the Edusave Character Award.
Both are worth at least $200 at the Primary 1 level.
On Monday (Jan 13), the 16-year-old was one of around 24,000 who returned to their secondary schools to collect their O-level results.
The Xinmin Secondary School student has already secured a place in Temasek Polytechnic through the Early Admissions Exercise, an aptitude-based admissions exercise that allows students to apply for and receive conditional offers for admission to polytechnics before receiving their final grades.
He will be doing a diploma in early childhood development and education.
Speaking to the media on Monday, Aqil said his interest in teaching was piqued when he started tutoring his younger sister, who is now 15.
Aqil, who also has two older siblings, said: "None of us went for any tuition classes because we couldn't afford it. When I was younger, whenever I learnt something new in school, I would be excited to go home and teach my sister."
Skipping meals has had some adverse effects on his health.
Once, when he was in Secondary 3, he collapsed during assembly and had to be sent to the sick bay.
"Usually, I would drink water to make myself full and I would be okay. When I fell sick that day, my ex-form teacher came to see me in the sick bay and that was when I told her about my family's financial situation.
"Every week from then on, she would buy me bread to make sure I wouldn't go hungry."
Some of his classmates would also offer to buy him meals, he added.
His father, Mr Nizam Shah Abdul Hamid, was also at the interview.
The 54-year-old currently works as a Grab driver due to his ill health - he has chronic diabetes, asthma and heart problems - which forced him to leave his previous job in interior design.
His youngest daughter also has severe asthma and is periodically hospitalised, which adds further pressure on the family's finances.
Although Aqil's older brother, 25, and sister, 22, have been helping after they started working about two years ago, the family still has unpaid hospital bills of about $4,000.
But the family remains close-knit, Mr Nizam said.
"We have financial problems, but it has not broken my family. I'm blessed."