Slow student a success story, thanks to teacher
'Slow' student graduates with computing degree, thanks to help from teacher
When he was put in the EM3 stream after Primary 4, he thought his future looked bleak.
"Apart from my friends, (school) was like hell," Mr Ervin Kwan, 27, told The New Paper.
"I was ostracised and some of my teachers even picked on me. One of (them) nicknamed me 'Tortoise' because I was slow and would slouch in my seat.
"I couldn't believe that even my teacher was calling me names."
Although his parents were disappointed, they were not particularly pushy.
His mother, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Kwan, 52, said: "We gave him a lot of freedom and didn't put pressure on him. We knew we could just encourage him to improve."
Mr Kwan's peers were not as accepting - he recalls them regularly calling him "stupid" and "slow".
"I felt hopeless, but I was determined to break out of it," he said.
The turning point was when he started secondary school at Holy Innocents' High School.
"With a new environment and new teachers, I grabbed the opportunity to start again.
"I worked very hard and my form teacher recognised that and helped appeal to the principal to promote me to the next level," he said.
With the support of his Secondary 1 form teacher, Ms Evon Tan, Mr Kwan went from the Normal Technical stream to the Normal Academic stream. (See report, right.)
"Once I was in Normal Academic, I felt more motivated," he said.
"After studying very hard, I even made it to one of the top few positions in the stream."
He got As for Elementary Mathematics, Additional Mathematics and Combined Science at the O levels.
After secondary school, Mr Kwan went to Singapore Polytechnic to study information technology (IT).
"Poly was a shock to the system. After putting in lots of effort, I got a B, which I felt was a low grade, for my first programming module and began to doubt if I had any talent for IT."
He found the motivation to work harder after seeing a presentation given by a classmate at the end of his first semester.
"Everyone would just stare and drool over his projects - they were always very professionally done," he said.
Mr Kwan worked hard and eventually won a spot on the Director's Roll - which is for the top 10 per cent of each cohort - for "at least four semesters".
After leaving the polytechnic, he had planned to get a job.
But while browsing through a list of National University of Singapore (NUS) courses, he found one that "looked similar" to his interests. He applied for it and was accepted.
NUS was not what he expected.
"I was doing so well in poly that I thought NUS would be a breeze. I was wrong," he said.
But he continued to work hard and eventually began to enjoy the subject.
In a software development competition in August 2013, he won second runner-up.
He was also selected to be a teaching assistant for a "famously abstract" module and received praise from his students for his style of teaching.
"They said that the way I explained things was easy to comprehend. I received lots of compliments," he said.
Earlier this month, Mr Kwan graduated with a Bachelor of Computing in Information Systems with Honours (Merit) and is now working as a software developer at a start-up.
He is pleased that the EM3 stream was replaced in 2008 by subject-based banding.
"I think it's a great initiative. A lot of my peers in school had potential, but (due to the stigma), they lost their confidence.
"Nothing is really impossible if you put your heart into it."
"One of (them) nicknamed me 'Tortoise' because I was slow and would slouch in my seat."
- Mr Ervin Kwan on being picked on by his teachers in primary school
Teacher gave him second chance
"He was very hard-working. Even though he was shy, whenever in doubt, he would ask questions." - Ms Evon Tan (above) on Mr Ervin Kwan's work ethic. PHOTO: EVON TAN
Once in a while, a person comes along and restores your faith in people.
Ms Evon Tan is that type of person.
The 39-year-old teacher was Mr Ervin Kwan's Secondary 1 form teacher and maths teacher at Holy Innocents' High School, and she saw potential in him at a time when he needed it.
"When he first joined, he was quite reserved," she said.
"But I soon saw that he was very hard-working. Even though he was shy, whenever in doubt, he would ask questions."
She became convinced after seeing his work ethic and drive to improve, and felt that he was merely a "late bloomer".
"He got good results for his mid-year exams. You need a 75 (out of 100) for all subjects to be considered for the Normal Academic stream and he achieved that," said Ms Tan.
During the promotion exercise meeting, when the faculty would decide which students would be moved to the Normal Academic stream, she pleaded his case.
"Most of the panel were worried about him coping... But I knew it was a good opportunity for him," she said.
"I spoke up for him... and the school said 'okay'."
CHECK ON HIM
Even after he was no longer her student, Ms Tan would ask him how he was doing and check with his teachers to make sure he was coping well.
Mr Kwan said of Ms Tan's support: "Whenever I needed help, she would always be there... It really built up my confidence."
Their friendship has not weakened with time - Mr Kwan takes Ms Tan out for a meal every year on Teacher's Day.
Ms Tan said she uses Mr Kwan's story as inspiration for her students.
"I always tell them: There are no stupid students, only lazy ones. With hard work, anything is possible."