WHEN Muhammad Asyraf Chumino was 11, he left primary school to care for his mother, who had depression.

It was only two years later, when she got better, that he was able to continue his education.

With no PSLE certificate, he joined Mendaki's Max Out Programme, which helps upgrade the skills of out-of-school youths.

He then entered Northlight School, where he topped his cohort and moved on to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East, where he scored a 3.9 grade point average.

The 20-year-old is now at Singapore Polytechnic pursuing a diploma in hotel and leisure facilities management.

Yesterday, Mr Asyraf was one of 25 students awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship to Encourage Upgrading (LKY-Step) award, presented to ITE and polytechnic graduates who excel in their schoolwork and co-curricular activities.

Said Mr Asyraf: "I worked as hard as I did for my mum - so as not to be a burden to her.

"Many people have come alongside me in this journey and I want to show them that I won't let them down."

Yesterday's award ceremony was held at the Regional Language Centre auditorium.

Eight other categories of awards were given out to a total of 122 students.

Some of the students picked up more than one award.

Among them was the afternoon's top winner, Mr Jeremy Lau Tuck Wei, 20, who bagged three prizes.

Mr Lau said he was devastated when poor N-Level results in 2011 forced him to take up an ITE course. But he persevered by working hard to improve himself and today, he is pursuing a course in mechanical engineering at Singapore Polytechnic.

Speaking at the ceremony,Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah highlighted the achievements of several polytechnic and ex-ITE students who worked hard to upgrade themselves, and received the LKY-Step award in recognition of their tenacity.

The Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review Committee (Aspire), which she chairs, focuses on helping students from non-elite schools upgrade their skills and learn for life, among other things, she said.

"There are now multiple education pathways catering to students with different strengths and aspirations," added Ms Indranee.

LKY-Step award recipient Tan Xin Hao Shaun, 21, said an education at ITE can be a good step towards lifelong learning.

"A lot of people feel that going to ITE is a negative thing but I want to show them it's a path to build a strong foundation," said the former student of ITE College Central.

He said he aims to return there to teach after completing his mechanical engineering diploma course, which he is now pursuing at Singapore Polytechnic.