More poly students to sample courses before specialising

At the edge of 17, students may still be discovering where their passions lie and may not be ready to decide, for instance, between software programming or cyber security. This is why a scheme that lets engineering students at polytechnics sample foundation courses before deciding on their specialisation will be expanded to cover students in other faculties.

The Common Entry Programme, as the scheme is called, will be offered to students taking business and information and digital technology courses from next year. The scheme aims to give students more time to discover where their strengths lie before selecting an appropriate programme. A student in the information and digital technologies cluster, for example, will take foundation courses in computing mathematics, introduction to programming and networking fundamentals in his first year. In his second year, he can then decide to specialise in network engineering, software programming or cyber security.

Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, who announced the change, said it is important that schools, post-secondary institutions and universities help students discover their innate strengths and talents. This is the way to ensure that Singaporeans keep learning and upgrading themselves. "Only an interest-driven choice will motivate students to want to learn their whole life, to master their professions and their craft, and to build expertise in their fields," he said.

He agreed with Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) that currently, most polytechnic students get funnelled into occupation-specific courses right from the start. “It is daunting and confusing for our young students, who, at age 16 or 17, have to choose from among 230 courses. Most of them hardly know what work life is like, much less the work nature of these specific jobs.”

Mr Ong noted that polytechnic course have proliferated “as employers wanted graduates with specialised skills and wanted them fast”. The courses will be streamlined and the number reduced by 20 percent over the next few years as “over-specificity” puts students at greater risk of being displaced when the industry changes.

Mr Ong also announced the expansion of another polytechnic pathway – the Polytechnic Foundation Programme open to Normal (Academic) students who have done well in N-level exams and allows them to skip Secondary 5. They go on to the polytechnics to do a one-year preparatory course that covers English, mathematics and domain-specific modules such as life sciences or physics.


More than 35 percent of the first cohort of 800 students who entered the Polytechnic Foundation Programme in 2013 scored a grade point average of 3.5 and above, compared with the norm of 25 percent of each polytechnic cohort.


As a result, the Education Ministry will expand the programme by relaxing the eligibility requirement. With this change, the top 15 percent of Secondary 4 Normal (Academic) students – about 1 500, compared with  1 200 now – will be able to take up the foundation programme next year. But Mr Ong stressed that such changes need to be supplemented with a stronger and more systemic effort to guide students to discover where their strengths lie.

Post-secondary institutions and universities, too, have had to tweak their admission criteria to take into account aptitude and interests, something that the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnics and universities have already started doing.

Last year, the Ministry of Education expanded the aptitude-based admission target for universities and polytechnics to 15 percent. Mr Ong said there is scope to do more at the ITE as admission to vocational training pathways should predominantly be aptitude-based. He also addressed concerns raised by several MPs, including Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC), who asked what more could be done to position students strongly for the future.

HE said that in the past, institutes of higher learning (IHLs) had the mindset that they had three to four years to prepare students before they embarked on their careers. “So, from the word ‘go’, IHLs are in a race against time… The result is a hectic and technically intensive curriculum,” he said.

“Employers often comment that Singapore graduates know a lot of ‘stuff’… but they can do better in terms of soft skills, be genuinely interested in their chosen careers and have fire in their bellies.”

But with learning becoming lifelong, IHLs realise that they have 20 or 30 years to work with students when they return for more knowledge and skills after graduation, and there is no hurry to pack the curriculum, said Mr Ong. “In this system, you learn to learn, and never really graduate. That is the essence of SkillsFuture, and the most important feature we need to build into our system to help us stay resilient in the face of an ever-changing future.”


Source: The Straits Times 6 March 2018

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