Sometimes Stuff Happens

The GCE “O” Level Exam is a major event in the life of secondary school students in Singapore.  Each year, about 2,000 students have results that seem to leave them in a flux – the results are not good enough to get to where they want to (e.g., Junior Colleges or to their desired course at the Polytechnics) and yet are too good to for a chance to repeat a year in their secondary schools.

The aim of our Capstone module was to gather information from and for this group of students.  From the start, the team faced many challenges as there is shame and silence among this group of GCE O Level re-takers.  They are an invisible community indeed.

Other than interviewing MOE officials, we had sessions with veteran GCE O/N level teachers, and interviewed individuals who went through the journey of re-taking the GCE O Level Exams as private candidates.  We also interacted with students from Commonwealth Secondary School as a way of learning about their feelings about the coming GCE O Level exams.

After the interviews, seminars and readings, our team produced this video on Singapore GCE O Level Retakers’ Experiences –

We also recorded our Capstone journey through this Facebook account:

This Capstone module educated the team about the uncertainties and anxieties for students who opt to re-take their GCE O Levels as private candidates.  There is much more that the Singapore community could do to support these resilient learners (e.g., scholarships, information, study groups).

Reflections from Capstone team members

Having to embark on this project was familiar and eye opening at the same time. It was familiar because of its similarity to my experience here in Singapore. However, I am still considered as one of the many ‘privileged’ students in Singapore, we managed to pass our exams and get into our preferred courses in the various institutions. It had never crossed my mind, at that point in time, that there are students who are stuck in a ‘limbo’, without a clue where to go next. This is when the system ‘fails’, at least for these students… Many valuable life lessons were learned as I was put in such a difficult situation. Overall, it has prepared me to face failures with an open mind. In other words, it has taught me to be a resilient learner.  – Suen Ao Xiang, Year 2, Science

I was quite amazed by the level of personal understanding the teachers displayed with regard to the preferences and character of their students. While walking back to the College, one of them asked me what the exact purpose of this whole program was, and I explained our desire to motivate the students by giving them something to aim for. She then said “but they’ve had so many programs like this, how is this different? They’re just not happy.” The rest of our journey was spent analyzing their moods in class and the way they respond to stimuli, which did indeed support her assertion. I was very touched by how observant she was and how her concern for her students was not rooted in academic performance but rather in personal well-being. – Alison Koh Yuen Wan, Year 2, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.