SINGAPORE - In Secondary 1, one of Siti Aisyah Abdul Rahman's biggest fears was speaking to her teachers and classmates in English.
The Serangoon Garden Secondary School student told The Straits Times: "Although I had learnt English in (Islamic religious school) Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri Al-Islamiah, I was more comfortable conversing in Malay.
"The teachers and classmates all spoke in English and I was scared they would judge me. It felt suffocating when I struggled to express myself in English."
But it was when she was chosen to represent the maths department in her school's open house in 2017 that she had to confront her fear.
She had to speak to parents and potential students about the department in English, a subject she struggled with.
On Monday (Jan 11), the 16-year-old was over the moon to learn she scored six distinctions out of seven subjects at last year's O-level exams. She also cleared English, getting a C6 grade for the subject.
"I felt relieved and glad that I did well. I managed to pass English and achieved my target for the rest of the subjects," she said.
Siti Aisyah, who moved to a mainstream secondary school after six years in a madrasah, had done well enough to secure a Ministry of Education Edusave Scholarship for all four years in Serangoon Garden Secondary School.
Between 2017 and 2019, she consistently finished in the top five of her cohort.
To improve her English skills, Siti Aisyah undertook after-school lessons with her teachers in Secondary 3 and 4 and practised with classmates who helped her identify and correct her grammatical errors.
The shy student's confidence soared when she stepped up to become the Head of Operations in her co-curricular activity Red Cross Youth (RCY) in 2019. She was responsible for overseeing the running of the weekly training sessions.
Under her leadership, the school's RCY unit achieved the Excellent Unit Award, which required cadets to participate in workshops, competitions and first-aid modules in 2019, among other things.
She also rose to the rank of Warrant Officer and received the Director's Award, which is the highest honour a Red Cross cadet can achieve at the secondary level, last year.
Despite her difficult journey, Siti Aisyah said she is proud of how far she has come and hopes to pursue a diploma in accountancy in Singapore Polytechnic.
She said: "Don't be afraid to step up or be worried if anyone judges you. It's your future and you need to pave your own path."