As a young girl, Aisyah Nurul Izza's favourite spot was along the aisles of bookshelves in the Geylang East Public Library children's section.
From kindergarten to primary school, she was on a mission to find out all about her favourite topics, from mountains to dinosaurs to manatees.
Each topic turned into a mini-project that took several months, during which she and her mother made scrapbooks of all that they had learnt about it.
Aisyah's love for learning has stood her in good stead, as the 12-year-old emerged this year as the top madrasah pupil in the Primary School Leaving Examination.
With a score of 269, the Madrasah Al-Irsyad Al-Islamiah pupil also has the highest aggregate points by an Islamic school pupil. The previous top scorer was her senior, Sakinah Yusof, who attained 266 in 2010.
Aisyah said she was surprised when she received her results - A stars for English, Mathematics, Science and Malay - last month. She also achieved an A star for Islamic Studies, a non-examinable subject.
"I didn't expect such a high score, much less to get the highest score by a madrasah pupil," said the daughter of a software engineer and a housewife.
Her family, who lives in a four-room flat in Bedok, moved to Singapore from Pemalang, an Indonesian city, 10 years ago as her father had a job posting here in the telecommunications industry.
Aisyah and her parents are now permanent residents. Her four-year-old brother will be trying for the same status next year.
She applied last week to secondary schools, including mainstream girls' schools, and may apply to Madrasah Al-Arabiah Al-Islamiah in Toa Payoh as well.
"There may be some cultural differences in a mainstream school, so I have to try and fit in with other people," said Aisyah, who hopes to be a scientist or chemist in future. "I'm looking forward to trying new subjects like biology and chemistry, making new friends and having a new experience."
In fact, she is so excited that she is now doing an Introduction to Chemistry course on Coursera, an online learning provider.
She spends an hour three days a week listening to lectures on quantum numbers as well as intermolecular forces and reactions, for the module offered by Duke University based in the United States.
Her mother, Madam Novi Fitriani, 42, said: "When my children like something, I encourage them to find out more about the topic and explore."
Her son, for instance, has been intrigued by the heavy machinery at a construction site near his pre-school in East Coast.
"He likes to watch things like excavators and cranes," said Madam Novi. "So we stand at the overhead bridge every day on the way home and look at the site for about five minutes before we go home."
She added: "When Aisyah asks me questions, I try to help her look for answers from libraries and the Internet because I may not know everything. She is now an independent learner."
Unlike many of her peers, Aisyah's free time is not spent on tuition. Instead, she enjoys reading mystery books by Agatha Christie, learning to play the piano, and swimming on the weekends.
Said Madam Novi: "I don't believe in stressing her. Too much work is not good."
This article was first published on Dec 9, 2014.
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