He goes from 105 for PSLE to become NUS Masters graduate
PSLE failure defies expectations and graduates with master's degree
An uncle once called him stupid when he was put in the EM3 stream in primary school.
He was the only one from his family in it.
Then, Mr Zhang Zhirong had another blow.
In 2000, he had a score of 105 for his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and qualified only for the Normal Technical stream in secondary school.
Not wanting anyone to look down on him again, he worked hard and went to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), where he graduated with a perfect GPA of 4.0.
He continued to study architecture at Singapore Polytechnic (SP) after serving his national service and graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in June with a Master of Architecture.
Mr Zhang's parents divorced when he was in kindergarten.
Now 28, Mr Zhang recalled how he struggled with English because no one spoke it at home. He has two siblings.
His poor English results meant he could not be promoted to Normal Academic.
He told The New Paper: "I told myself that I was going to study hard, so people won't look down on me again."
After his N levels, he entered the ITE.
He said that when he was first put in the EM3 stream, he believed that his education would stop after ITE.
He added: "I had no one to guide me or tell me that I had other options, that education doesn't stop there."
But when Mr Zhang, who developed an interest in design and architecture in secondary school, pursued a Nitec course in Building Drafting at ITE Bedok, he flourished, graduating with a 4.0 GPA.
After serving his NS, he studied architecture at SP.
Mr Zhang hit a stumbling block after his poly studies as his lack of an O-level pass in English made it difficult for him to apply to university.
He had taken the English O-level exam twice during his NS and poly years, but did not manage to pass.
So with the help of his neighbour, he wrote to NUS and was surprised when he was called for an interview and test, and was accepted into their architecture programme.
"I still consider myself incredibly lucky to have got in," he said.
To finance his studies, he worked part-time as a waiter, then as a sales assistant during his ITE, poly and university years.
He also took a bank loan to pay for his master's.
And when Mr Zhang needed help with his dissertation, he contacted his former primary school teacher, Madam Jocelyn Lim, 60.
Madam Lim, who retired from teaching in 2006, told TNP: "I admire his determination. I think if I was in his place, I would have given up. But he always faces his challenges head on."
She gave Mr Zhang weekly English lessons. He offered to pay her, but she declined.
She said: "If I can do anything for my former pupils within my means, I definitely would."
Mr Zhang was quick to credit his teachers, friends and family for helping and supporting him throughout his journey.
He said: "Without their help, I wouldn't be where I am today."
Mr Zhang is another example of what Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung meant when he said at a SkillsFuture Study Awards ceremony last month that the education system is not designed with "dead ends".
Mr Ong said: "If we encounter a setback, which all of us will, we do not give up, and do not let one setback define us.
"Our system is not designed with dead ends - far from it - there are multiple alternative paths to take, and we have a lifetime to walk them."
I told myself that I was going to study hard, so people won't look down on me again.
- Mr Zhang Zhirong
Former repeat student wins scholarship to study in Scotland
Sota student gets arts scholarship
A few years ago, she found herself at a crossroads - buck up or drop out of school.
Miss Nur Aqilah Hassan was forced to repeat her fourth year at the School of the Arts (Sota), twice.
The former visual arts student at Sota just could not cope with the academic demands as part of the school curriculum, which included mathematics and science.
But those early stumbling blocks did not stop her from going on to receive a prestigious National Arts Council (NAC) Arts scholarship this year.
BH FILE PHOTO
A former Haig Girls' School student, Miss Nur Aqilah, now 21, who scored As and Bs for her PSLE, said: "I take time to learn and process what I've learnt."
She was more interested in art, a passion that began at a tender age.
Sota students do a six-year integrated arts and academic programme.
From Year 1 to 4, apart from their arts specialisation, they study a range of subjects such as English, maths, science and humanities.
After Year 4, they can choose to pursue the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme or the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP).
The first time Miss Nur Aqilah's teachers told her that she had to repeat Year 4, she was disappointed.
The second time, she just felt "numb". She had lost the motivation to continue studying.
Then, a conversation with her art teacher, Mr Khiew Huey Chian, gave her the jolt she needed.
Recalling the chat with Mr Khiew, she said: "Towards the end of Year 4, he sat me down and told me I had to make a decision.
"Either realise my dream by staying in Sota, or leave and find another path."
The wake-up call gave her the push she needed.
She said: "This was not how I wanted my personal narrative to be."
The chat with Mr Khiew also gave her hope.
He told her about the IBCP, which was newly launched then in 2012.
The two-year IBCP targets students who want to specialise in a specific career.
On top of their arts specialisation, IBCP students learn a mother tongue, fulfil community service requirements and write a research essay. They also take subjects which develop their languages or develop their life skills.
Miss Nur Aqilah said that when she heard about the programme, she knew that this path was suited for her.
With the goal of entering the IBCP in mind, she put in extra effort in her studies when she retook her Year 4 exams for the third time.
She said: "I had to collaborate with my friends and find new strategies to study."
With a laugh, she added: "I didn't have much of a social life at the time."
The hard work paid off.
She scored mostly As in the exams and was offered a place in the IBCP, which is reserved for top students with teachers' recommendations.
Miss Nur Aqilah cites her mother, Madam Hamidah Abdul Karim, 50, a floral designer for over 15 years, as a source of inspiration.
Miss Nur Aqilah, who has two sisters, aged 19 and 17, said: "My mum breathes art. Just the way she views the world and her floral designs inspire me."
Her father, Hassan Ali, 58, is a senior technician.
Madam Hamidah told TNP that when her daughter retook her Year 4 exams, she noticed her staying up late.
She said: "She really worked hard despite what she faced. We as parents held her hands to help her.
"She's a good role model for my younger daughters and for everyone else."
From next month, Miss Nur Aqilah will be pursuing a degree in sculpture and environmental art at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland for the next four years under the NAC scholarship.
In her spare time, she has organised art exhibitions, such as one in Geylang in February, which she organised with another artist from Sota.
Miss Nur Aqilah, who dreams of becoming a curator, has this piece of advice for others: "Never look at repeating (a year in school) as a big failure. Treat of it as a stepping stone and not something that will pull you down."
This was not how I wanted my personal narrative to be.
- Nur Aqilah Hassan when told she might have to drop out of school for failing her exams
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Singaporean woman, teens detained at JB checkpoint
She was told to wind down the rear tinted windows of her car but she allegedly refused to comply.
When she was told to step out of her car with her two teenage children, the Singaporean woman is said to have made a vulgar hand gesture at the Malaysian immigration officer.
She also allegedly shouted vulgarities while pressing the car horn repeatedly.
For doing so, the 42-year-old woman and her children have been detained at the Johor Baru checkpoint.
The incident happened at the Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex at 3.30pm last Friday.
The three had claimed that the immigration officer allegedly asked them for a bribe, which they refused.
The incident came to light when Facebook user Pokok Tumbang posted in Malay on the page entitled JB Traffic, Road Blocks and Potholes Report.
Also posted there were pictures of the police report, the trio being arrested and handcuffed and the three in the holding room at the checkpoint.
The post, which was picked up by social media and shared by netizens,was removed by the administrator of JB Traffic, Road Blocks and Potholes Report yesterday.
The incident was reported in citizen journalism website Stomp and Shin Min Daily News.
It is not known if the woman and her children were entering Malaysia or returning to Singapore, or if they are still being detained by the Malaysian authorities.
Attempts to call the Malaysian authorities and the woman at her home here were not successful.
When contacted, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman told The New Paper: "Officials from the Singapore Consulate-General in Johor Baru have visited the detained Singaporeans.
"The Consulate is also in touch with the Malaysian authorities, and will continue to provide consular assistance to the three Singaporeans".
Man arrested for fatal Yishun stabbing
A resident heard piercing screams, followed by silence before the incident
When she saw her mother's face covered in blood on Saturday night, the 10-year-old girl panicked and ran next door to ask for help.
The neighbour, who wanted to be known only as Madam Misnah, 51, told Shin Min Daily News: "She told my husband that her mother had fallen and was not moving, and there was blood on her face."
When Madam Misnah's husband got there, he saw the girl's mother lying in the bedroom in a pool of blood.
She had been stabbed multiple times.
A 37-year-old man has been arrested, said police. He is expected to be charged in court today with murder, which carries the death penalty.
SCENE OF CRIME: The flat in Yishun Ring Road where the woman was found. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS
Neighbours said the victim, a 29-year-old woman, was his wife.
The incident is believed to have happened at around 8.30pm on Saturday, after an argument.
The woman died eight hours later at 4.26am at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).
Police said they received a call at about 9pm, requesting for help at a unit in Block 342B, Yishun Ring Road.
When they arrived, they found a 29-year-old woman with injuries in the flat.
EVIDENCE: Forensics officers at the scene. PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS
She was conscious when she was taken by ambulance to KTPH.
Madam Misnah said the woman, whom she identified as Madam Sri Idayu Ghazali, was a clerk and that she had moved into the Yishun flat with her family about a year ago.
It was also about the same time that Madam Misnah's family moved in next door and the two families became close.
Madam Misnah said there were eight people living in Madam Sri Idayu's flat - Madam Sri Idayu, her husband, their two daughters, her parents, her sister and a maid.
"The two girls would often come over and play. Whenever we make something special for dinner, we would give them some and they would reciprocate," she said.
She told a Shin Min reporter that before the stabbing, she heard loud arguments coming from Madam Sri Idayu's flat.
A resident who lives upstairs said he heard quarrelling at about 8pm on Saturday.
The man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, said he then heard piercing screams, followed by silence.
Residents said they saw the woman's husband being questioned by the police at the void deck before he was handcuffed and taken away in a patrol car.
- Additional reporting by JUDITH TAN