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Yip siblings zip down the fast track

Wonder kids take exams years ahead of their peers and score distinctions. -ST

Tue, Sep 01, 2009
The Straits Times

By Nur Dianah Suhaimi

Two years ago, siblings Bryan and Michelle Yip made the headlines in Singapore when they sat for the O-level exams years before their peers and scored 15 distinctions between them.

Bryan was only 14 then while Michelle was 12.

This time, the wonder kids have done it again.

Last November, when he was 15, Bryan aced his A-level exams with straight distinctions in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics.

He scored more than 90 per cent in two subjects, Biology and Mathematics. The qualifying mark for an A grade is 70 per cent.

His Chemistry and Physics scores were 84 per cent and 89 per cent respectively.

His younger sister, Michelle, who was 13 last November, sat for nine more subjects to get a complete O-level certificate. She scored straight As.

Including the four O-level papers she sat for earlier, she now has 13 As.

Next month, Michelle, now 14, will sit for her A-level exams in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics.

Two years ago, Bryan was in Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), and Michelle, at Henry Park Primary School.

But they were pulled out of their schools by their parents and home-schooled by tutors for six months.

They then sat for the O-level exams as private candidates at the British Council, which offers O- and A-level exams by Cambridge International Examinations and the London Edexcel Board, which administers educational qualifications.

Their parents then sent them to Britain's Concord College, a boarding school in Shropshire which allows fast-tracking, where brighter students jump levels.

It was the duo's total of 15 distinctions that convinced their parents, Dr Kevin Yip and Dr Joanna Lin, to continue to fast-track their studies.

Said Dr Yip, 47, an orthopaedic surgeon from Hong Kong: 'Learning should not just centre around school and books. If the children complete their basic education faster, they will have more time for other experiences such as travel or internships.'

His wife, Dr Lin, 45, is an oncologist from Malaysia. Both are permanent residents, having moved to Singapore in 1996.

Singapore rarely allows fast-tracking. The Education Ministry allows grade skipping and subject acceleration only on a case-by-case basis.

This usually happens only at the primary school level. The pupil will also be closely monitored by the ministry, said an MOE spokesman.

The ministry revealed that, since 2000, only five children have skipped a grade level when they were in primary school.

Meanwhile, the Yips' youngest child Anthony, seven, seems poised to follow in his siblings' footsteps. He is now in Primary One at Henry Park Primary.

His parents believe he can sit for the O levels when he turns nine. He started reading encyclopedias on his own since he was five.

Very few children in Singapore sit for the O- and A-level exams at a younger-than-usual age. MOE figures show that usually, fewer than five students a year take these exams at a younger-than-usual age.

Most Singapore students usually sit for their O-level exams at 16, or older, if they went through the Normal stream or were previously retained. Junior college students are usually 18 when they sit for the A-level exams.

When The Sunday Times visited the Yips last Wednesday, Bryan and Michelle were home.

Bryan said he did very little studying and started revising for the A levels only five weeks before the exams. He did not have any tuition outside the boarding school.

He said: 'In the UK, tuition is almost unheard of. Nobody has tuition unless they are seriously lagging behind.'

Now 16, he hopes to study medicine at University College London. However, he will have to wait two years until he is 18, the minimum age to study medicine there.

Meanwhile, he expects to do his National Service.

Michelle is likely to continue her studies at Concord College until she completes her A-level exams.

Their parents said they will allow their children to take a break from school for a year or two if they choose to.

Said Dr Lin: 'I took a year off to travel around Europe before starting university. It was a good break for me.'

As for Anthony, Dr Yip said: 'We'll probably start teaching him some O-level subjects next year. So probably by the time he is nine, he'll be ready to sit for the exams.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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