Boy who exposed- and fought- the education monster

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He is Singapore’s role model. He is the boy who fought his way from Normal (Technical) Stream to a place at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

David Hoe, 26, has already been featured in two newspapers. My Paper in 2012 and The Sunday Times, last Sunday, have hailed him as a victor

“The boy who fought his way to university”, said The Sunday Times.

But one forgets –  Hoe is also an exception, someone who defied the  obstacles set forth by the stressful education system of Singapore.

He fought a monster.

This is his story.

At five years of age, his parents divorced.

At seven or eight years old, his mother went blind from cataract and he ended up selling tissue paper and titbits to make ends meet.

Sometimes later, as he grew up, he was poor and he mixed with bad company. He said he had a PSLE score of 110, which landed him in Normal (Technical) stream. His story, the sort of soap opera you would watch on Channel 8.

But at Secondary 1, he decided he was not going to be your “chicken rice uncle.” He wanted to be a teacher instead.

So he made the mountainous climb to excel in his studies, only to find himself face-to-face with the monster in front of all Normal (Technical) students.
No Normal (Technical) student could do “O” Levels. No “O” Levels, forget teaching.

“The only possible way would be for one to get straight distinctions for his “N” Levels, in order to make the lateral transfer to Normal (Academic) in Secondary 5. However, no one had ever achieved such a feat.  I came close to meeting the mark, but I got an A2 for English,” he told My Paper.

Only six per cent of Normal (Technical) students make it to Normal (Academic) stream at Secondary 2. Only five students from each Normal (Technical) cohort make it to Normal (Academic) stream in Secondary 4.

And only 15 per cent of Normal (Technical) students make the leap to polytechnics or universities.

The rest could go to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

As of 2014, students in Normal (Academic) and Normal (Technical) courses from 12 selected secondary schools will be allowed to take higher level subjects in Secondary 1.

But the caveat is: They will have to perform well in these subjects at PSLE level.

Yet Hoe would not have qualified, even if he were at school now. He was weak in the English language, he said. He would not have been able to take the subject under the new scheme.

But Hoe would not go down without a fight. In defiance or in a last dash for hope, Hoe wrote to then Minister of Education, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, adamant that he will be a teacher.

When he finished his N levels, he was granted permission to repeat Secondary 3 and Secondary 4 in the Express Stream. It was an unorthodox response to an even more unorthodox deed of writing Mr Tharman a letter.

But Hoe took his chances and got past the monstrous hurdles.

Today he sits comfortably in NUS. Today he is the boy who is featured on Sunday Times.

Yet I think he is more than that. He is not the boy who just fought the monster. He is the boy who revealed the monster within the education system.

But what about others who have  messed up  their PSLE and did not have the courage to write letters to ministers?