From a bubbly teen, he became a recluse almost overnight, keeping to himself and hardly speaking to anyone.
Depression set in and he began skipping classes when he was at SMK Tunku Ampuan Durah in Seremban, Negri Sembilan.
It was not until he went to Sekolah Pendidikan Khas Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, where he received support and counselling, that he regained his confidence.
Mohd Rifaat, now 21, recalled how his family went in search of eye specialists in the country to seek a cure for his sudden blindness.
“However the medical experts had ruled out the possibility of me ever regaining my vision,” he added.
After months of wallowing in self-pity, Mohd Rifaat decided to overcome the challenges before him.
Learning Braille was his first hurdle.
“I had to memorise the dots and my fingers were not sensitive, so it took me a while to pick it up,” said the country’s top STPM scorer in the blind category for last year.
The former SMK St John student scored 2A’s, 2A- and 1B.
Moved by the dedication and commitment shown by his teachers, Mohd Rifaat now aspires to become a special education teacher to help visually impaired students succeed in their studies.
He said that he would like to pursue his education degree either at Universiti Malaya or Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris.
“He is very hardworking. We always knew that he would do well in the exam,” said his teacher Ruby Amin.
Aside from supportive teachers, some high achievers also credited their siblings for their success.
Chong Kai Zhen for instance, said he was thankful for his younger sister’s help in preparing for the examinations.
The 20-year-old from SMK Tinggi Kajang, Selangor, was the top scorer in the deaf category in the examinations.
“If I didn’t quite understand a concept, I would meet up with my teachers or discuss the issue with my sister.
“Her help was invaluable, and since she’s taking her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations this year, I will be returning the favour,” said Kai Zhen, adding that his ambition was to be a special education teacher.
Top student in the rural category Syivero Patrick, 21, said his older brother was his idol who inspired him to do well.
“My brother is now a doctor at the Sabah Medical Centre in Kota Kinabalu. Considering that my parents are farmers, this is a great achievement,” said the former SMK Kota Marudu, Sabah student.
Syivero added that as a rural student, learning materials were hard to come by.
“I spent a lot of time at the town’s libraries to get reference books.
“My teachers even lent me and others their own books and notes for us to read,” he said.
Meanwhile, Low Hong Ping’s challenge was to keep his strength up to focus on his work.
Suffering from muscular atrophy, the 21-year-old explained that he tired easily because of his condition.
“Every day after school, I would take a two-hour nap just to regain my energy before picking up my books to study,” he said.
Emerging on top of the spastic category with 2A’s and 2A-, Hong Ping said he hoped to further his studies in the field of economics.
“I’m not sure what the future holds for me just yet, so I’m just taking one day at a time.
“What is most important to me is not to give up and continue to do my best,” he said.
Echoing the sentiment of doing one’s best was Lim Yi Wen, who was the one of the two top scorers of the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) 2010. The other top MUET scorer was Ding Choon Ken with a Band Six.
MUET, which tests listening, speaking, reading and writing, classifies candidates according to six bands or levels of achievement, from Very Good User (Band Six) to Extremely Limited User (Band One).
“I was quite surprised to learn that I obtained a Band Six in the MUET,” she said.
“I did feel some pressure to do well – my older sister received a Band Six when she sat for the examination, and my father is an English lecturer!
“I just gave it my all in the paper,” said the former student from SMK Methodist, Perak.
Yi Wen obtained 1A, 1B, 1 B- and 1C+ in the STPM.
Malaysian Examinations Council (MEC) chairman Prof Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, who announced the STPM 2010 results analysis, said more should be done to ensure that students in the rural areas have the same access to quality learning and facilities.
He said the gap between the urban and rural areas should be narrowed, to make the latter, part of “mainstream” education.
Prof Dzulkifli who is also Universiti Sains Malaysia vice-chancellor, said one of the principles under the New Economic Model (NEM), is inclusiveness, which is a key pre-requisite for cultivating a sense of belonging and engagement.
Urban STPM candidates performed better than their rural counterparts, with 946 candidates (12.61%) obtaining three to five A’s compared to 105 (6.19%) in rural areas.
Prof Dzulkifli said the Education Ministry should do its best to attract teachers to rural schools.
“It’s a perennial problem.
“Rural schools face more challenges as the facilities are not as good as those in urban areas,” he added.
In the Federal Territory, a total of 658 students obtained full passes in four or five subjects.
Federal Territory Education director Mohd Adenan Deraman said two candidates scored 5A’s and 15 students obtained 4A’s.
The results for 10 subjects, namely the General Paper, Chinese Language, Tamil Language, Malay Literature, Syariah, History, Geography, Accounting, Mathematics S and Chemistry showed an improvement in terms of the passing rate.
However, just 17 students obtained a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 last year compared with 26 in 2009.
BY TAN EE LOO and PRIYA KULASAGARAN Star Online 27 February 2011