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From rock bottom to top of the class

09 Mar 2015


With no interest in studying and thoroughly convinced he will never do well, M Thirukkumaran was on a downward spiral in secondary school and was almost retained in Secondary One and Two.

Fast forward nearly 10 years, Thiru, 23, is now studying Business Analytics at the National University of Singapore (NUS) under NEA and PUB’s National Environment and Water (NEW) Scholarship.

What turned Thiru a full 180 degrees around? It was the first taste of success, through the efforts of a teacher, Mr Tan Thiam Boon.

In Secondary Three at Montfort Secondary School, Thiru felt that he had hit rock bottom. During a rudimentary algebra test, he scored one mark out of a total score of 50. Instead of shaking his head in disbelief and despair, his mathematics teacher, Mr Tan, went out of his way to coach Thiru after school. But his efforts were in vain.

“Mentally, I had already accepted that I would not be able to do it,” said Thiru.

Undeterred, Mr Tan encouraged Thiru to pay full attention for the next topic, Trigonometry. Dejected and with little left to lose, Thiru came early to sit at the front of the class and followed the lesson attentively. About a week later, Mr Tan distributed the results of a test starting from the lowest to the highest scorers.

Thiru recalled the incident with great clarity.

“Naturally, I had expected my name to be the first to be called. But it was not and I was afraid my paper was lost. But instead, it was the last name called! I still remember the smile on Mr Tan’s face, and the confusion on everyone else’s that day. I sat dumbfounded. Mr Tan had managed to do what nobody else had. In one fell swoop, he eliminated the negative labels that society and I had placed on myself, and reinstated my confidence.  More importantly, he showed me that I was capable, that I wasn't a "delinquent" or a failure. It was akin to recovering from blindness.”

That initial spark ignited a passion, drive and desire to test his potential and accomplish what he did not even dare to imagine before. Thiru topped his class in mathematics and did well at the N-level and O-level examinations. At Tampines Junior College, his teachers gave him the opportunity to take H2 physics and mathematics, even though he did not take the prescribed secondary school subjects. Thiru’s hard work and determination paid off, often in the top 5% of the cohort for the regular examinations, and emerging as one of the college’s top students at the A-level examinations.

“While many would consider my background a handicap, I believe that going through and overcoming those circumstances is one of my biggest strengths,” said Thiru.

“I hope my story will serve as an inspiration to other students who, like me, have or are facing various problems,” said Thiru, “Ultimately, the only variables that really matter are the magnitude of your passion and determination, the willingness to work hard through obstacles, and a touch of stubbornness to ignore those who say you should just give up.”

Thiru seeks to utilise good data analysis to help NEA draw new insights, improve decision making and disseminate useful information to the public more effectively in future. With a strong interest in environmental sustainability and desire to pay it forward, Thiru hopes to make a difference in the lives of others and the community.