When Aaron Sim was 15, he quit school and joined a gang. But he soon realised that if he were to make anything of himself, education and skills were important in securing the first proper job.
At age 15, then-Punggol Secondary School student Aaron Sim decided that he had enough of school.
Bored of the subjects he was studying and restless, he quit school and joined a gang.
Liberated from the drudgery of school, he woke up at noon and played computer games all day. In the evenings, he roamed the streets and visited LAN gaming cafes, drinking and smoking, and even getting into fights.
But after a year of doing little more than existing, Aaron realised that his life was heading nowhere.
At about the same time, his close friends from primary school were also studying hard for their Secondary Three exams. These friends had also not been doing well in school but decided that they had to at least try to pass the exams, he said.
“They asked me to hang out with them which I did. And I saw that they were studying hard,” he said. That prompted him to start thinking about his future too.
“My family is not well to do. I have to work for myself. So I decided to take charge of my own life,” he said, realising that his life was his to lead and that he needed to take mastery of his own path in life.
He returned to Punggol Secondary School in 2011, a year after he left. His hair was cut short and his shirt was tucked in on the first day of school. He was determined to turn his life around.
Few classmates came up to talk to him at first, intimidated by his reputation of being in a gang before. But he was not perturbed. Instead, he focused on the lessons and soon found out that classes were not that difficult.
“I was interested in maths, so I tried to pay attention and realised it's quite fun,” he said.
The teachers also noticed his change in behaviour and attitude. They started to praise him for doing his homework and encouraged him after he did well for his tests.
Still, he was fearful about taking his N-Level examinations at the end of Secondary 4. Expecting to fail, Aaron instead scored 14 points, enough to get into ITE.
“I was shocked that I could actually do well for my N-levels. So when ITE started, I just sat in front of the class and paid attention,” he said, with a grin.
He did so well at ITE that he clinched the second spot in his accountancy course – scoring a grade point average of 3.9 out of 4 – winning the Silver Medal in 2014.
After graduation, he secured a place in Finance and Accountancy at Temasek Polytechnic and has been enjoying every minute of his school experience so far.
His polytechnic grades have not been too shabby either. He has been holding a 3.94 GPA, which is made up of straight As and “just two Bs”.
Work First, Study Later
Today, Aaron is aiming to eventually become a teacher. But he wants to collect some work experience before going back to the classrooms.
“By the time I finish my diploma, I will be 24. Then I have to do my National Service. I don’t want to study for another two to three years because by then I will be so old,” said Aaron.
“I rather just go get some work experience. I think it’s important that, because of my age, to work rather than to study.”
Instead, he prefers to work and study part-time because he can earn a wage and still continue to accumulate experience, which he believes is important for securing good jobs.
Aaron is also keen to help others like him, and has been spending time with younger troubled boys at the Tampines Family Service Centre.
“Most of them are just playful. As a mentor, I share with them my stories and tell them how I regretted my own actions when I was young,” he said.
For now, he is focused on finishing his studies and then completing his NS before looking for a job in a bank.
He believes the work experience will help him in his goal to return to school as a teacher. He can share real-world experience with his students instead of just focusing on theory, he said.
“Teachers had a big impact on me. So I hope I will be able to help guide and motivate students who need help or those who were once like me.”