By Cheryl Ong
OF THE top Secondary 4 students who sat for the GCE O-level examinations last year, nearly three in 10 came from Catholic High School.
From a total of 43 top students islandwide, 12 were from the school, and all 12 scored nine straight A1s. These students also made Catholic High the school with the most top-scoring Chinese students.
These results were a sharp rise from last year, when only three Catholic High students made it to the list of top Secondary 4 Chinese students.
Principal Lee Hak Boon attributed the marked improvement partly to a new curriculum the school adopted in 2006. It allows students to take subjects they want to study rather than choose from fixed subject combinations.
'What we've done here is to open up a lot of options,' said Mr Lee. 'We're giving leeway to students who want to do what they are interested in.'
O-level students need to take a predetermined number of subjects in language, the sciences and the humanities.
Students at Catholic High were able to take any combination they liked as long as they met the requirements.
The resulting total number of combinations came to nearly 100, according to English head of department Edwin Heng, and the school coped by 'banding' subjects in the timetable together.
For instance, during two hours of humanities subjects in a timetable, students attend the respective classes of whatever subjects they signed up for.
'I think the school programme has certainly helped,' said Chan Hua Peng, 17, one of the top students at Catholic High. 'If you study what you like, you'll naturally want to do well.'
Interests aside, the flexible system allows students like fellow top-scorer Chua Kah Hoe, 17, to take subjects they could ace.
'I chose mainly the subjects I would do well in,' he said. 'But it all depends on how much hard work you put in, and the teachers, of course.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on January 13, 2009.