N-Level results were released yesterday (19 December) with students from the Normal (Academic) stream maintaining a pass rate of 99.5% while those in the Normal (Technical) stream shone with a pass rate of 98.1%.
One N-Level student from the Normal (Technical) stream was highlighted by TODAY for her achievements in the exam despite facing an incredibly difficult life. The 17-year-old Nurain Sanusi had to deal with her parents getting a divorce, financial struggles due to her mother’s ailing health, and facing intense discouragement from teachers back in Primary 2 and 3.
A struggling student
When she was in Sec 2, Nurain’s mother had to stop working as a postwoman due to high blood pressure and a flaring up of diabetes conditions. To make things work, Nurain’s stepfather divorced her mother soon after.
Consequently, Nurain’s mother was unable to provide Nurain with pocket money, leading the young to start working in order to support her mother and two younger siblings, aged 11 and 13.
In her first job, Nurain worked part-time at an ice-cream parlour for a mere S$20 a day. She would work there after school on Fridays and over the weekend. When her teachers found out about the very low pay, she was told to quit.
After that, she found a job as an ad-hoc service attendant at banquets for about S$70 to S$80 a day. She also got a job as a stall assistant at a coffee shop, taking orders, preparing ingredients and washing dishes.
Nurain said of her struggles, “There was too much (going on). I was having a lot of weight (on my shoulders) because my parents divorced and I needed to work. Everything pressured me so much.”
“I felt like giving up… When I got home, I needed to sit with my sisters and teach them their homework. At the same time, I also had my homework to do, so I barely had time of my own,” she said. “On holidays, I didn’t really get to rest. I helped my mum with household chores.”
In term of the discouragement, Nurain said some teachers could have been more encouraging. She talked about some bad experiences she had in primary school when she felt bullied by a teach who used to call her ‘black’ in front of her classmates because of her darker skin tone.
“It haunts me till today,” she said. “The teacher hated me, always discouraged me. Whenever I asked a question on something I didn’t really know, he would just ignore me and say stuff like, ‘You will never make it’… I never went home with a smile on my face.”
The article mentioned that Nurain has tried self-harming and skipped many days of school when she was in Sec 2 during some of her toughest times.
One of the things that helped Nurain through the tough times was a wheelchair-bound classmate who gave her a reason to show up at school. If Nurain didn’t turn up to wheel 16-year old Ivan Sombrado Chiang for the 10-minute walk between school and the Admiralty MRT station, he would have a tough time on his own.
The young lady was recognised for her acts of service and exemplary character and outstanding personal qualities with the Edusave Character Award on Thursday.
Another source of motivation was athletics. She became part of her school’s athletics team and took her training seriously, representing the school at the Inter-school Cross Country Competition this year and last year.
Nurain said that being involved in sports not only helped her get fitter but also drove her to be a better role model for her siblings. “They are young. Maybe I can be the light. Maybe I can help improve their future,” she said. “I don’t want them to live (like I did).”
But things are not all rosy now. Sadly though, Nurain told TODAY that she still sees herself as a failure for being in the Normal (Technical) stream, but added that she is still soldiering on.
She said, “To be honest, I see myself as a failure. I expected more from myself,” she said, her voice slightly trembling. “I am still trying my best to do what I can in order to ‘put things back together’. I tried my best to help my mum whenever she needed me.”
And at times, she also notices that her schoolmates have very different lifestyles with their Nike Air Max and being able to afford hanging out at restaurants, which Nurain is unable to do.
“I am just 17 and I am already this tired, and other people are enjoying their lives. But I feel there is good in it, because I learn much more than they do,” said the young lady.
However, her future is far from dim. Nurain was recognised by her school as one of the best performing students in the ITE Skills Certificate selection for retail services. TODAY reported that she has even been offered a conditional place in the Nitec Retail Services course at ITE College Central where she will learn promotion and customer service.
Nurain stressed that ITE is not the end for her but is instead a step towards her goal of becoming a tour guide. She hopes that the skills she picks up at ITE will be useful in tourism.
She also mentioned feeling proud to hear that some students from the Normal (Technical) streams have managed to become bosses at companies and even do better than their counterparts from the Express and Normal (Academic) streams.
The flip side
One thing we should note, though, is that while Nurain’s story is a heartwarming parable of how you can succeed if you work hard enough and stay strong enough, it still paints a bleak picture of the local education system and society.
Surely you’re aware of the recent conversation about a student being denied her original PSLE results slip because of unpaid school fees. In the end, a good samaritan stepped up to pay the due so that the student could get the original certificate. Activist Gilbert Goh brought this story to the forefront, which sparked a conversation about whether students should be punished and humiliated for the failings of their parents.
At the time, the Ministry of Education said that this particular MOE policy is a “long-standing practice” that is not based on the intention of “recovering the money”.
When the story of the PSLE student started to gain traction online, several concerned citizens started a petition urging the MOE to reconsider the policy which Mr Goh had described as “rubbing salt into the wound of poverty”. Mr Goh explained that “the shame in getting a photostated copy of the PSLE result slip must have weighed heavily on the shoulders of those who are poor and needy when most of their peers have the genuine ones”.
In response to the petition, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung agreed to review the policy and said he would bring it up in parliament next year. However, in his response, he disagreed that children who did not get the original results slips were “humiliated”. He also disagreed with views that schools and teachers are “uncaring and unfeeling” and that the process of applying for financial assistance is “difficult and demeaning”.
Mr Goh, wanting to help, started a school fees charity project to help students pay off their school fees and “provide hope to a besieged population struggling with ultra-high costs of living”.
Just today, Mr Goh shared that an N-Level student was able to collecter her exam result certificate after having her S$700 backlogged school fees paid. About S$500 of the total amount was paid up using funds raised by Mr Goh through a crowdfunding platform.
One person who commented on a share of TOC’s report on Mr Goh’s efforts said she wished someone like Mr Goh was around when she was in school, explaining that she had to start working at just 14 years old.
Citizens are crying for the government to do more to help students like Nurain.