SINGAPORE: Polytechnics will reduce the number of courses they offer by one-fifth over the next two to three years, although there will be no change to the intake, said Education Minister in charge of Higher Education and Skills Ong Ye Kung on Monday (Mar 5).
Courses offered by the five polytechnics, which stand at about 230 now, will be streamlined to provide students with broader exposure. This will be done largely by merging courses, said Mr Ong at the Committee of Supply debates.
“We are consciously trading depth for more breadth and versatility,” he said.
Mr Ong noted that over-specificity puts students at greater risk of being displaced when the industry changes and it can also stifle the versatility of students.
“By streamlining the course choices for students, we actually increase the career options for graduates,” he elaborated.
The minister emphasised that the streamlining of courses will give students “broader exposure” and that “there is no fall in polytechnic intake” due to the new move.
Mr Ong also announced that polytechnics will roll out more common entry programmes (CEPs) next year, which will help students who need more time to explore their interests.
“While there is always a small group of students who are very clear about what they want to do from a very young age, the majority of students will be in a self-discovery mode when entering polytechnics. They may have an idea that they like engineering, IT or social science, but they find it too early to pick a course that is specific to an occupation.”
He added: “Every additional six months or one year helps.”
The CEPs comprise foundational modules common to a particular cluster of discipline. They provide students with the opportunity to learn foundational skills and be exposed to different specialisations within their chosen discipline before deciding on one at the end of the first or second semesters.
Given that CEPs for engineering courses are already being offered, Mr Ong said the new programmes will cover the business, and information and digital technologies clusters.
For instance, a student in the information and digital technologies cluster will take foundational courses in computing mathematics, introduction to programming and networking fundamentals in the first year. He or she will then decide on a specialisation from the second year.
Mr Ong said: "That will give them more time."
The two new CEPs are expected to account for 30 per cent of their cluster intakes from next year, the minister added.
POLYTECHNIC FOUNDATION PROGRAMME TO BE EXPANDED
Mr Ong also said that the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) will be expanded to benefit more students.
The PFP, first introduced in 2013, is a through-train programme for students from the Normal (Academic) stream to pursue a specific diploma programme in the polytechnics.
Instead of progressing to Secondary 5 after their N-Levels, eligible students can choose to enroll in a one-year practice-oriented pre-diploma programme, according to information from the Ministry of Education.
At the moment, the PFP is open to students from the N-Level stream with a raw aggregate score of 11 points and below.
From 2019, the programme will be expanded and extended to students from the N-Level stream with an aggregate score of 12 points and below, said Mr Ong.
The change will increase the number of students accepted every year from about 1,200 to 1,500, the minister added.
Mr Ong noted that the programme, which saw its first batch graduate in 2017, has seen “very encouraging” outcomes.
“Typically, 25 per cent of each cohort score a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.5 and above. But for the PFP students, 35 per cent achieved it,” he explained. “The norm is that 55 per cent of each cohort score GPA 3.0 and above, but 70 per cent of PFP students achieved it."
Apart from better scores, the dropout rates for PFP students are also much lower than average, Mr Ong added.
On the encouraging results, the minister said: “Polytechnic principals think that being offered PFP greatly motivated the students from the N(A) stream. I also believe that it has something to do with the students’ strong interest in the polytechnic path that they chose.
“Given the right encouragement and a chance to prove themselves, especially in an area they enjoy doing, students will do their best and will have a good chance of doing well. This inner drive outweighs the countless hours of tuition or close supervision.”
MORE EMPHASIS ON APTITUDE-BASED ADMISSIONS AT ITE
During his speech, Mr Ong also said that the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) will embark on a review of its admission system to rely more on assessing students’ aptitude through interviews and review of portfolios.
For one, the existing cap of 30 to 50 per cent for each course during the ITE’s early admission exercise (EAE) will be lifted.
This will allow “further flexibility to select and admit a higher proportion of students under EAE” though the total proportion of students that ITE can take in under the exercise will remain at 15 per cent, MOE said in response to Channel NewsAsia’s queries.
Aptitude testing will also be expanded to other ITE admission exercises.
The revised system will be implemented in stages from the 2019 admissions cycle, starting with selected courses in business, hospitality, as well as the information and communications technology (ICT) sectors, announced Mr Ong.
According to information from MOE, the ITE already incorporates aptitude testing for selected Nitec courses during the Joint Intake Exercise (JIE), which is the main admissions exercise to ITE and takes place after the release of N-Level results. These include aerospace avionics, visual effects, as well as pastry and baking.
Similarly, aptitude testing is also employed now when admitting Nitec graduates into selected Higher Nitec courses, such as early childhood education and sport management.
“There is scope for us to do more at ITE. Ideally, admission to vocational training pathways should predominantly be aptitude-based,” said Mr Ong.
“There are practical constraints, such as course capacity or the industries’ ability to absorb the graduates, but where possible, we want every student to enter a vocation of his liking.”