IF THERE is one subject Sheldon Tan, 11, looks assured of scoring an A* for at the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) this year, it is mathematics.
He has already bagged distinctions in mathematics and additional mathematics at O level.
This Rosyth School pupil, who sat for the international equivalent of the O-level mathematics exam and scored an A* when he was just nine years old, was also allowed to skip a year in school.
The following year, he sat for the additional mathematics paper and took home an A.
And he is not the only one.
There is a growing group of children in Singapore who are sitting for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), an internationally recognised qualification equivalent to the O levels, and the British equivalent of the GCE A-level examinations before the ages of 16 and 18 respectively.
And, contrary to popular belief that parents are pushing these kids, the children say that they are the ones asking to test themselves at higher levels.
Sheldon's mother, Dr Lee Tung Jean, a 35-year-old civil servant who holds a PhD in economics from Oxford University, said her son has been been doing maths puzzles and raiding the bookshops for maths textbooks and assessment books since he was three years old.
By the time he reached Primary 1, he was doing Primary 6 maths and was allowed to skip a grade and move on to Primary 2.
Sheldon, who has two younger siblings aged five years, and 17 months, said he took it upon himself to sit for the IGCSE maths papers because 'I wanted to see how good I was'.
He then squeezed in the time to prepare for it in his already packed schedule. In the same year when he sat for his first IGCSE paper, he was preparing for the diploma of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in piano music performance and stayed back after school almost every day to attend choir, debate and maths club sessions.
On top of that, he competed in numerous maths and science olympiads and Chinese language competitions.
His father Gary Tan, 35, a deputy director at a statutory board, said: 'We believe in sufficient rest and want him to be in bed by 9pm every day. But he has no problem doing that. He also has time to play with his brother and sister and play computer games. He is very organised.'
Just as he did for school exams, Sheldon studied for the IGCSE papers on his own without the help of tutors. If he had queries, he would occasionally seek help from his mother, who was Singapore's top O-level student in 1990.
Like their son, both Dr Lee and Mr Tan are former Gifted Education Programme (GEP) students.
When asked if preparing for the exams was tiring, Sheldon said: 'I don't find exams a chore. I am intrigued to find out about new things. I just have an urge to learn more. And then I like to see how well I've understood the things I learnt; exams allow me to do this.'
His mother said she was not keen initially on him taking the exams because she felt he had too much on his plate, but he insisted on it. 'When he wants something, he will go all out. He is very clear on what he wants, and we cannot stop him,' she added.
Rosyth School principal Celine Ng said: 'Sheldon is an exceptionally bright young individual... He is respected by his peers and is well-liked by teachers. He is also appointed a school prefect because he is a good role model to others.'
Next up, Sheldon hopes to be the top PSLE pupil this year and further along the road, he wants to become a maths professor or a classical music composer.
And he looks set on achieving at least one of his goals - he was the top Primary 5 GEP pupil in his class last year.
'Everyone wants to aim for the top, don't they?' he said with a grin.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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