How much should O levels matter? The case for late bloomers

(Clockwise from top left) MP Liang Eng Hwa, entrepreneur Tan Kah Chye, Mr Joshua Soh and Mr Mark Phooi.
(Clockwise from top left) MP Liang Eng Hwa, entrepreneur Tan Kah Chye, Mr Joshua Soh and Mr Mark Phooi.PHOTOS: ST FILE, TIMOTHY DAVID, TNP FILE
MP Liang Eng Hwa, who had failed to make the cut for junior college, receiving his civil engineering diploma from Singapore Polytechnic. He would later become a senior bank executive.
MP Liang Eng Hwa, who had failed to make the cut for junior college, receiving his civil engineering diploma from Singapore Polytechnic. He would later become a senior bank executive.PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIANG ENG HWA
MP Liang Eng Hwa (above) was introduced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a "poly comeback kid" ahead of the 2006 General Election.
MP Liang Eng Hwa (above) was introduced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a "poly comeback kid" ahead of the 2006 General Election. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Last month, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung proposed a review of the use of O-level results in university admission of poly graduates as it could exclude late bloomers from entry. Calvin Yang speaks to four who did poorly at the O levels but excelled later in life. Success after failure, they say, is entirely possible.

He managed only a D7 grade for O-level English and failed to make the cut for junior college, yet MP Liang Eng Hwa - who eventually took the polytechnic route - worked his way up to become a senior bank executive.

The MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC admits spending more time as a teenager catching spiders and fish from the stream near his family's rented Woodlands house than reading English books.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 12, 2018, with the headline 'The case for late bloomers'. Print Edition | Subscribe