How David Hoe fought his way to university

How David Hoe fought his way to university
Doing badly in the PSLE landed David Hoe in the weakest Normal (Technical) stream in secondary school. After finishing his N levels, he was so determined to become a teacher, he repeated Secondary 3 and 4 in the Express stream. He is now studying economics at the NUS.

SINGAPORE - Mr David Hoe has a radical teaching idea which he hopes can be realised one day.

"Wouldn't it be great if teachers here could get one year to teach whatever they wanted to teach?" asks the 26-year-old.

"The whole idea is for them to show their students what passion is, how to help them find something they like and pursue it passionately."

The economics undergraduate at the National University of Singapore floated the idea on his Facebook page.

"I just wanted to see what sort of response I would get. Some said there would be chaos. But some said they would go back to school because the level of creativity in the students would shoot through the roof," he says.

The reaction from the second group excites Mr Hoe, who has a scholarship from the Ministry of Education and will undergo training to become a teacher after he graduates next year.

Not everyone thrives academically in school, he says. "But if they get the right motivation and direction, there's still hope. I see value in young people, especially those who feel lost, and I think we should invest in them and give them hope."

He should know. He did so badly in the Primary School Leaving Examination that he landed in the Normal (Technical) stream, meant for the weakest students. But good friends and encouraging teachers changed his life by rescuing him from the academic wilderness.

Today, he is a well-respected youth and student leader, a bright economics undergraduate who has gone on exchange programmes in Harvard as well as Tecnologico de Monterrey, one of the top universities in Mexico.

"People have invested in me and I want to give back. I want to teach because teaching is not just about imparting knowledge but affecting and shaping lives," he says.

Earnest with an infectious joie de vivre, he is the younger of two sons. His parents got divorced when he was just a toddler.

"My dad was a big drinker. After they separated, I went to live with my mother; my elder brother went with my father," he says.

Mother and son lived in a one-room rental flat in Toa Payoh. She earned a living as a supermarket sales promoter but tragedy struck after a cataract operation went wrong and she became blind.

To make a living, she took to selling packets of tissue paper and other knick-knacks in hawker centres and on the streets. Her seven-year-old son tagged along, acting as her eyes.

It made him slightly resentful.

"I felt life was unfair. I didn't understand why my brother didn't have to do it, while I had to. At most, he helped her only during weekends," he recalls, adding that he looked forward to the monthly visits to his father's home as those were the only times he could sleep in an air-conditioned room.

Trouble in school

Life became even harder when his mother suffered kidney failure not long after; he had to take her for her dialysis sessions a few times a week.

"I don't blame my mother. She was really good to me, but she wasn't able to help or teach me. To some extent, I felt ashamed and I think it affected my studies," he says.

He attended First Toa Payoh Primary and became quite a handful at school.

"My teacher had to draw a chalk circle and make me sit inside the circle so that I would not disturb the rest of the class," he recalls.

With a grimace, he relates how the discipline master pulled him aside for his lack of personal hygiene when he was in Primary 5. "I remember very vividly that he told me to buy soap. I had to meet him early in the morning before school; he taught me how to wash my own clothes."

When he was 12, his mother had a stroke and died. He went to live with his father, then working as a driver, and brother.

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