Why do homework when there’s ways around it? Ow Song Kiat learned his lesson not though his poor exam results, but when his teachers nominated him as the only N(T) student councillor at his school. Then he had to grow up and step up.
Since childhood, Ow Song Kiat was mischievous and playful, frequently found in the football field, catching grasshoppers with friends. “I would always come up with numerous ways to complete my school work with minimal effort. I was
super lazy,” he says. His “don’t care” attitude towards homework resulted in poor PSLE results and the Normal (Technical) stream.
Then he was made student councillor – the only N(T) councillor in Secondary 1 – and he “woke up”. Now, he’s not only aced his way through ITE and Singapore Polytechnic, he’s been offered a place at NUS to study Chemical Engineering.
You were made student councilor? How did that happen?
I went to the N(T) stream in Clementi Town Secondary School, and my teacher nominated me to be vice-president of the council! At that time, being the only Normal (Technical) student in the council put a lot of pressure on me to perform well. As VP, I felt I had a responsibility to be a good role model for my juniors. I started taking my studies very seriously, and I became the top scorer in the N(T) Level examinations in Sec 4.
My favourite subjects were always math and science. To me, dealing with math problems was like solving a puzzle. You find ways to get the right piece in. The moment you solve it, you go “Ahhhhhh! I get it,
Being in N(T) enabled me to think out of the box. I am glad for the emphasis on hands-on learning – it gave me a stronger grasp in visualising theoretical explanations. This gave me the opportunity to appreciate the lectures that I had later in ITE and SP.
What was it like, being in N(T)?
Initially, I was frustrated at people who scoff at Normal stream and ITE students. Then, I began to feel sadness for those people. As humans, all of us work hard every day to achieve our goals. We face challenges in life, and that itself is exhausting. Expressing negative views does not help you.
I was fortunate to have loved ones who have guided me. [With their support] I told myself that I have a mission to help others, and I was able to cope with the negativity that surrounded me – by constantly telling myself that there are others who have gone through worse than me. That gave me the strength to always get back up, whenever I “fell”.
How did you decide on a pathway after your N-level exams?
I loved the idea of hands-on teaching, which makes going ITE and Poly an obvious choice for me. However, I realised that hands-on alone [wasn’t enough]: It is the combination of both theoretical and practical approaches that kept me excited to learn. That’s when I decided to put University as part of my education pathway.
I [chose to go straight to] ITE, because of its unique internship opportunities. I wanted to get an idea of the possible work opportunities that are related to my course of study. Furthermore, I had a few seniors who shared with me the supportive culture that ITE provides. Now, as an ITE alumnus, myself, I can tell all my juniors that I enjoyed every moment of my time there!
One of the main reasons for choosing SP, was that it was near my house. Plus, the course (Chemical Engineering) that I wanted to pursue, was accredited by the Institution of Chemical Engineers in SP. Besides, it feels good to wear your own clothes to school!
Polytechnic studies involved many group projects and assignments. We even get the chance to work with our peers from different diploma courses. This helped to build our confidence levels, and our social circle as well.
What I really loved about poly was the practical sessions that came along with every lecture. The facilities and equipment available are more than enough to equip the students with the understanding of what has been taught in lectures. Furthermore, almost every polytechnic student would have gone on an overseas school trip once! I was fortunate to be on overseas exchange programmes in the Philippines, Malaysia and Japan.
How does it feel to be offered a place at NUS to study Chemical Engineering?
I was shocked. I did not imagine this day... But having a place in university is just the beginning. I feel extremely motivated to perform my best and to inspire the next generation of students who have gone through the normal stream/ITE route.
I am aiming to be an ITE lecturer as I hope to be a role model and correct the negative stigma associated with Normal and ITE students. While I believe that there are many ways to inspire others, I feel that being a lecturer would give me the best opportunity to engage with them, like my own teachers and mentors. I hope to be able to be there for them when they need help, both in studies and with personal problems possibly.
What advice would you tell those who have just received their N-levels results?
No matter what results you have, the course you choose, the path you take, there will always be challenges waiting for you. Think of your challenges as obstacles you need to overcome in order to grow.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Learn to love yourself and always remember that life's greatest obstacle is yourself. The moment you give up on yourself, that's the end.