Stephen Zhang at home with his family. Photo: Justin McManus
He’s the student who achieved a perfect VCE result without ever setting foot in high school.
Stephen Zhang has been home-schooled since grade 5 and was one of 35 Victorian students who achieved a top ATAR of 99.95 on Monday.
“I was not expecting it. It’s a miracle,” the 17-year-old said.
His mum taught him until year 10, and then he completed his VCE through the Distance Education Centre Victoria. He studied for at least eight hours a day at a desk in an empty bedroom in his Cranbourne home.
Distance education teachers provided him with moral and academic support over the phone and online.
“I wouldn’t have been able to achieve results like this without their help,” he said.
Zhang was born in Melbourne and spent a lot of his childhood moving around Australia with his family.
His parents migrated to Australia from China and financial struggles forced them to move around in search of work.
He ended up at a rural Victorian primary school and remembers feeling isolated because he was the only Asian child.
His parents took him out of school because they wanted a greater say in his education.
“They really wanted to have a stronger voice in my life, and they really wanted to instil moral values, character, integrity – which they considered more important than academic performance. They valued that more because it would set me up in life,” he said.
At 7am on Monday, Zhang’s phone beeped and he peered down at his results. He scored an impressive 46 in English language, 48 in maths method, 47 in specialist maths, 50 in chemistry and 48 in physics- making him the new poster boy for home-schooling.
His three younger siblings are also being home-schooled, and his 14-year-old brother is also studying science at Charles Sturt University via distance education.
Zhang hopes to study medicine and has been offered scholarships at Monash and Melbourne universities. He visited Melbourne University on VCE results day and was offered a tempting scholarship that he is likely to accept. It includes $5000 a year in a stipend, fully fee paid courses, and an overseas study trip.
“It’s a lot to take in,” he said.
His family joined him at the parkville campus, and his beaming father, unable to conceal his pride, repeatedly patted his tall son on the back.
It will become clearer on Wednesday and Thursday how schools have performed against each other.
But many schools were eager to highlight their achievements on Monday, with three Melbourne Girls’ Grammar students receiving perfect scores and Mac. Robertson Girls’ High, Balwyn High and Camberwell Grammar celebrating two perfect ATARs. A Cheltenham Secondary College student also scored a perfect ATAR for the first time in the school’s history.
Frankston High School is celebrating a big improvement on last year: 18.63 per cent of students achieved an ATAR above 90 this year, compared to 7.1 per cent in 2014.
Principal John Albiston said the school’s rising performance can be explained by the extraordinary dedication of the school’s teachers, many of whom have created Facebook pages for their individual subjects and answer students’ questions outside of school hours.
With Jessica Incoul and Liam Mannix