Teen sits exams despite brain tumour

SINGAPORE - He may have been diagnosed with a brain tumour but Andy Khoo did not let that stand in the way of his education.

The determined 16-year-old is due to receive his N-level results tomorrow after his school provided an ingenious way to help him sit the examination.

Andy's eyesight and ability to learn have been harmed by the tumour, meaning he struggles to make out the questions.

So his teacher at Pioneer Secondary School scanned the exam papers and, with the help of a laptop, displayed them on a large screen in front of his desk.

This unconventional technique allowed the Normal (Technical) student to sit his exams in an isolated room, away from the rest of his classmates.

After being diagnosed with the benign tumour in Primary 4, Andy was determined to complete his studies in a mainstream school.

The former top student's grades nosedived when his illness started damaging his vision and learning ability. He has been hospitalised eight times this year.

The son of an odd-job worker and a purchasing clerk, Andy felt that getting good grades would be the best way to repay his parents. He has an elder brother who is currently pursuing a degree.

"I am relieved that the exams are over," Andy told The Sunday Times. "I can't wait to get my results so that I can carry on with my studies."

The past seven years have been challenging as Andy, his family and his teachers struggled to find a way to help him catch up with what he was missing in class.

His mother Sharon Low, 47, said: "Andy would feel sleepy at times during the day and would doze off in class, thus missing out on his lessons.

"Even though Andy sat right in front of the whiteboard, he was unable to make out what was written on the board."

The teenager said: "I remember going home one day and telling my mother to put me in a school for the blind.

"It was so hard for me to study. I felt so useless. I just couldn't catch up with what was being taught in class."

To help her son, Madam Low spent nearly three months tearing out the pages of all his school textbooks during her lunch hour, scanning them one by one and then saving them on a thumbdrive.

She said: "Andy was then able to access the pages on his laptop and zoom in to read the enlarged text."

But that was still not enough. Madam Low felt that the best solution would be for Andy to film his lessons so he could catch up by watching them at home. But his teachers told her that videos could not be taken in class due to privacy issues.

Fortunately, one of his teachers, Ms Jessica Fu, came up with the idea of taking a snapshot of the whiteboard using an iPad, which is not prohibited in the classroom. The Make-A-Wish Foundation gave Andy the device. This allowed him to study for his N levels.

During the exam, he was given a table lamp to help him see what he was doing. After reading the questions displayed on the 32-inch LCD screen, he wrote his answers on a piece of paper with bold lines, to help make his writing more legible.

Andy's tumour is known as Craniopharyngioma, and about five to 10 new cases a year are seen in Singapore.

Since 2006, he has undergone four major operations as well as gamma knife radiosurgery.

Neurosurgeon Yeo Tseng Tsai, who has been seeing him since he was diagnosed with the disease, said fully removing the tumour would be too dangerous.

But despite Andy's condition, the solutions developed by the school and his mother have allowed him to continue studying.

Madam Low said: "We hope to share this idea with other visually impaired students. We want them to know that if they want to do something, nothing can stop them."

joycel@sph.com.sg


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