SINGAPORE - Students who sat the O-levels last year fared slightly better than the cohort before them, with 85.6 per cent obtaining five or more passes.
This is up marginally from 85.4 per cent in 2020.
With this, the class of 2021, who received their results on Wednesday (Jan 12), attained the best showing at the national examination in at least three decades, amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) and Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) said in a statement on Wednesday that a total of 23,555 candidates sat the O levels last year.
Nearly all of them, or 99.8 per cent, passed at least one subject, and 96.4 per cent passed at least three.
"This is comparable with the performance of candidates for the GCE O-level examination in previous years, notwithstanding Covid-19," the MOE and SEAB said.
Alea Hidayati Osman, 16, from Cedar Girls' Secondary School, was one of the students who collected her results on Wednesday.
She scored five As and four Bs.
Her world turned upside down in April 2019 when a tumour was discovered in her brain, and then again in December that year when another tumour was found in her spine.
It started with headache and back pain, nausea and vomiting.
"Initially, I thought that it was just regular muscle pain because I am in a sports co-curricular activity, but after a few days, the symptoms didn't stop," said Alea, whose father is a private-hire driver and mother a primary school teacher.
"We went to the hospital to get it checked out and the doctor saw that it was a brain tumour and had to be operated on urgently because it could affect my sight," she added The tumour was pressing on the nerve controlling her eyesight.
In 2019, she had two successful surgical operations to remove the tumours, followed by more than 20 sessions of radiation therapy the next year to prevent any relapses.
Besides missing school for several months, she could no longer train regularly with the track and field team, where she did long jump and triple jump.
"I remember breaking down on my hospital bed with my parents around me. Because I was actually quite a fit child, I didn't have any health problems and I rarely fell sick," said Alea, who has an older brother and a younger sister.
Returning to school was a big challenge too.
"When I came back to school, I tried my best to act normal - to be my usual cheerful and bubbly self. But what I didn't realise, was that I was actually in denial of my condition because I didn't want people to know I had surgery," said Alea.
"I wanted people to treat me like before. I didn't realise I was bottling up everything inside me, which led to a breakdown afterwards."
Her parents gave her strength to carry on and take part in school life as best as she could. They told her to focus on her physical and mental health, rather than stress herself out about catching up in her studies.
Teachers were also supportive and provided her with individual consultations when she needed help.
Since her illness, Alea has taken on a different perspective on life.
"It is okay to feel like you haven't done anything, because we are human. We will definitely have days where we just don't feel like doing anything, or we just feel sad," she said.
"Before, I was someone who had high expectations, and I had to excel at everything that I chose to do. But afterwards, I realised that grades don't define me," she added. "Even if I don't get good grades or outcomes, what really mattered to me was putting in my best effort."
Alea hopes to enter a junior college (JC), study medicine and become a neurosurgeon, because of her experience.
Students who wish to apply for admission to JCs, Millennia Institute, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education may do so through the Joint Admissions Exercise using their O-level exam results. Registration is from now to 4pm next Monday (Jan 17).
Students can approach their teachers or education and career guidance (ECG) counsellors supporting their schools to find out more about options available to them. They can also refer to the interactive MySkillsFuture portal.
The centre will offer online or phone counselling until Jan 21.