Tuesday 19 June 2012

Ex-NorthLight student scores place in polytechnic

Student who failed PSLE to take up aerospace engineering
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2012

NORTHLIGHT School, which takes in PSLE failures, has produced a winner.

Mr Paul Tan, a student in its pioneer batch who went on to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to study electrical engineering, has achieved a perfect grade point average of 4.

That has won the 22-year-old a place in Republic Polytechnic to study aerospace engineering.

There is more good news for him. On hearing that he needs financial help, the NorthLight School board has offered to pay for his polytechnic education. The fees alone are $2,250 a year.

Mr Tan, raised by his single mother Koh Lay Choo, 49, said he was initially happy when the polytechnic accepted him.

'But I soon started worrying about how I was going to pay the fees. There is no way my mum, a hawker-stall assistant, could afford it. I am very grateful to the school board.'

Board chairman Euleen Goh said he is a role model for other students who enrol in the Dunman Road school after failing their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

She added that the board has set up an alumni assistance fund that all former students can turn to for help.

She said the school now has a staff member who helps students transition into further education and work, as well as helps graduating students in their job search.

NorthLight, set up in 2007, offers a three- or four-year programme covering English, basic mathematics and computer skills, as well as vocational skills like retail operations and food preparation.

When they graduate, they can work or enrol in the ITE.

Eighty students from the pioneer batch of 200 made it to the ITE to take up certificate courses. Another 20 continued their education in private institutions such as Shatec, a hospitality and tourism training institute.

Sixty found jobs paying an average salary of between $700 and $800 a month.

Mr Tan attributed his good grades to his teachers and then-principal of NorthLight, Mrs Chua Yen Ching.

He had lost confidence after his poor performance in school and, at 13, dropped out to work in a factory.

When he was 16, he was attacked and robbed. While recovering from injuries, he re-examined his life and decided to return to school.

His mentor at church told him about NorthLight, which was opening then to give dropouts like him a second chance.

He said its teachers recognised his strengths and gave him leadership roles, including making him president of the students' council.

'For the first time in my life, I began to feel that I was capable and I could achieve something worthwhile.'

Mr Tan, who began his poly course recently after completing his national service, has set his sights on going to the Singapore University of Technology and Design to pursue engineering.

NorthLight principal Martin Tan said another four who went to ITE had done well enough to be admitted into the Higher Nitec programmes.

He added that those who had gone on to work are also thriving and some are taking up part-time courses.

Said Mr Tan: 'Paul and the four who made it to Higher Nitec courses are all an inspiration for NorthLight students. They have shown that with hard work and determination, all students can reach higher.'

The success of NorthLight led the Education Ministry to set up Assumption Pathway School in Upper Bukit Timah in 2009.

The two schools together take in about 400 primary-school failures and dropouts a year.

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