SINGAPORE - Students who sat the O levels last year fared slightly better than the cohort before them, with 85.6 per cent obtaining five or more passes.
This is up marginally from 85.4 per cent in 2020.
With this, the class of 2021, who received their results on Wednesday (Jan 12), attained the best showing at the national examination in at least three decades, amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) and Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) said in a statement on Wednesday that a total of 23,555 candidates sat the O levels last year.
Nearly all of them, or 99.8 per cent, passed at least one subject, and 96.4 per cent passed at least three.
"This is comparable to the performance of candidates for the GCE O-level examination in previous years, notwithstanding Covid-19," the MOE and SEAB said.
Alea Hidayati Osman, 16, from Cedar Girls' Secondary School, was one of the students who collected her results on Wednesday.
Her world turned upside down in April 2019, when a tumour was discovered in her brain, and then again in December that year, when another tumour was found in her spine.
It started with headaches and back pains, nausea and vomiting.
"Initially, I thought that it was just some regular muscle pain because I'm in a sports co-curricular activity, but after a few days, the symptoms didn't stop," said Alea, whose father is a private-hire driver and mother a primary school teacher.
"We went to the hospital to get it checked out and the doctor saw that it was a brain tumour and had to be operated on urgently because it could affect my sight," she added, as the tumour was pressing on the nerve controlling her eyesight.
In 2019, she had two successful surgical operations to remove the tumours, followed by more than 20 sessions of radiation therapy the next year to prevent any relapses.
Besides missing school for several months, she could no longer train regularly with her school's track and field team, where she did long jump and triple jump.
"I remember breaking down on my hospital bed with my parents around me. Because I was actually quite a fit child, I didn't have any health problems and I rarely fell sick," said Alea, who has an older brother and a younger sister.
Returning to school was a big challenge too.
"When I came back to school, I tried my best to act very normal- to be my usual cheerful and bubbly self. But what I didn't realise, was that I was actually in denial of my condition because I didn't want people to know I had surgery - I was away for so long and then came back to school," said Alea.
"I wanted people to treat me like before. I didn't realise I was bottling up everything inside me, which led to a breakdown afterwards."
Her parents gave her strength to carry on and take part in school life as best as she could. They told her to focus on her physical and mental health, rather than stress herself out about catching up in her studies.
Teachers were also supportive and provided her with individual consultations when she needed help.
Since her illness, Alea has taken on a different perspective on life.
"It's okay to feel like you haven't done anything, because we are human. We will definitely have some days where we just don't feel like doing anything, or we just feel very sad," she said.
"Before, I was someone who had very high expectations and I had to excel at everything that I chose to do. But afterwards, I realised that grades don't define me," she added. "Even if I don't get good grades or outcomes, I think what really mattered to me was putting in my best effort."
Alea hopes to enter a junior college (JC), study medicine, and become a neurosurgeon, because of her experience.
Students who wish to apply for admission to JCs, Millennia Institute, polytechnics, and the Institute of Technical Education may do so via the Joint Admissions Exercise using their O-level exam results. Registration is from 3pm on Wednesday (Jan 12) to 4pm next Monday (Jan 17).
Students can approach their teachers or education and career guidance (ECG) counsellors supporting their schools to find out more about options available to them. They can also refer to the interactive MySkillsFuture portal.
They can also make an appointment with a counsellor from MOE's ECG Centre via this website, call 6831 1420, or email MOE_ECG@moe.gov.sg.
The centre will offer online or phone counselling until Jan 21.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.