Highlights

Former Geylang Methodist School boy is top physics student at Oxford

Oct 2009    

Dedicated teachers and school environment helped Shyam Srinivasan fulfil his potential

IT WAS THE YEAR 2006. We had recently received news of an ex-student of Geylang Methodist Secondary School who had been awarded the Public Service Commission (PSC) Overseas Merit Scholarship to study at Oxford University.

There was a buzz in the staff room as teachers who had known or taught this student before fondly and excitedly recalled how this quiet, courteous and extremely bright student who had topped the school’s GCE “O” levels examination had continued to create waves wherever he went.

Shyam Srinivasan, 21, not only aced all his subjects in the “A” levels, including the S Paper for physics, but also hit the headlines again this year when he bagged First Class Honours for physics at the University of Oxford and was awarded the Scott Prize 2009 by the First Honour School of Physics for best overall performance for the BA physics course.

This is no small feat, considering that he only came to Singapore in 2000 and had to adapt to this strange new place that would be his home for most of his teenage years.

Shyam came back to Geylang Methodist in 2006 to give a talk to the students, to share how he had achieved success in his studies. His PSC scholarship would steer him towards a teaching career and his enthusiasm in motivating students was clearly seen as he shared with them his study tips.

Shyam is currently studying for his MS in Physics at Columbia University. He will be returning to Singapore in the middle of 2010, after which he will serve out the remainder of his National Service. Upon completion, he will proceed to the National Institute of Education to study for his teaching diploma before joining the teaching profession

Meeting him for the first time, one would be struck immediately by his unassuming nature. He is humble almost to a fault, and is extremely polite and grateful to his teachers.

Who is this young man from India – a scholar, physics extraordinaire, cricketer and floorball player for his university?

We did an email interview with Shyam recently:

What do you think has contributed to your success?

I have had tremendous support from my family and was also fortunate to have met extremely encouraging and caring friends over the years.

I was also constantly stimulated and inspired by my teachers at all levels and that helped me develop a passion for physics. I have had a great experience as a student so far and am extremely thankful to the people who have made this experience possible.

How did you adapt to studying in Singapore when you arrived here from India? What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

It helped that I had completed Secondary 2 halfway in India before re-joining Secondary 2 in Singapore. I was ahead in many subjects and therefore had the time to make adjustments to life in Singapore in general.

The teachers were understanding about my lack of competence in certain subjects and I worked as hard as I could to catch up. I also had many good friends who were extremely inclusive and helped me ease into school life here.

What has your experience been like studying in Geylang Methodist School? Was it awkward being a non-Christian studying in a Methodist school?

In Geylang Methodist School I did not feel out of place even though I was not a Christian. I had several other friends who were non-Christians themselves and we all went to chapel and sang songs just like our Christian friends.

I think what helped was that we were never treated differently for being non-Christians or pressured to convert to Christianity. And at the same time, listening to sermons that dealt with good values and morals helped shape us to be upright and responsible individuals.

Is there a particular teacher in Geylang Methodist School who has made an impact on you?

I had some wonderful teachers during my time at Geylang Methodist School and all of them contributed in one way or another to my success.

I am glad to have been taught by them and feel it’s only right that I mention and thank all of them here. All of them were extremely encouraging and passionate about their subjects and teaching in general.

Mr Tan Soon Hong – my mathematics and form teacher for Sec. 3 and 4. Mr Tan always emphasised understanding concepts over memorising and that has been fundamental to my academic success. He also encouraged me to strive for the best and also to go to Victoria Junior College (he had come from there himself ) and I subsequently made it my goal to get to VJC after the “O” levels.


WE WERE NEVER TREATED DIFFERENTLY

“In Geylang Methodist School I did not feel out of place even though I was not a Christian. I had several other friends who were non-Christians themselves and we all went to chapel and sang songs just like our Christian friends. I think what helped was that we were never treated differently for being non-Christians or pressured to convert to Christianity. And at the same time, listening to sermons that dealt with good values and morals helped shape us to be upright and responsible individuals.’’

Mr Lim Soon Wai – my physics teacher for two years. He supported my entry into several science competitions which Mr Lim Soon Wai – my physics teacher for two years. He supported my entry into several science competitions which piqued my interest in science and added a lot of weight to my resumé. I will not forget how thrilled he was when I did well in a particular competition. It showed how much he cared for my success.

Mrs Lau Swee Bee – my geography teacher for two years. Geography was a subject I enjoyed much in secondary school and I need to thank Mrs Lau for being a tireless and passionate teacher. She really made the subject relevant and exciting for us.

I also wish to thank Mrs Lee Fang Lan, Mr Richard Chia, Ms Ng Kim Geok, Mrs Lim Oi Leng and Mrs Lian Yok Khoon who had all been excellent teachers and were a constant source of support and encouragement to me and all the rest of us.

It is a testament to how good my teachers were that I have also chosen to teach upon completing my studies, and I hope to support and inspire students in the same way that my teachers did.

What are your career aspirations?
I will start off teaching physics and mathematics to school students when I get back. I hope to do some policy work in the Ministry of Education and other ministries if presented with opportunities, and impact our community in a positive way. It is my way of saying “thanks”to all that Singapore and Singaporeans have done for me.

Sng Swee Lian is the Subject Head, English at Geylang Methodist School (Secondary).

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