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Polytechnic Foundation Program

Polytechnic Foundation Program: What is it and its implications?

Polytechnic Foundation Program: What is it and its implications?

Fast forward
Do you feel that five years of the N-levels education is too long compared to the four years of O-levels? Some people think so. And they are not just students who are getting impatient about graduation. They are professional educators from polytechnics. They have rolled out two programs, the Polytechnic Foundation Program and the Direct-Entry-Scheme, which can admit students without having them go through their last year of their N-level education.
A different road to polytechnics
There is one thing that we need to be sure of. Such programs are never intended to replace the traditional national exams whereby most students are admitted into higher level institutions. But rather, such programs only serve to add diversity and flexibility to selection mechanisms. Only top students from a secondary school can apply, because the bar of admission via such programs is rather high. Because of the rigorous selection process, admitted cohort is of good quality that can form a motivating environment for learning. As with any other streaming mechanism in Singapore, they will filter out the most suited candidates that can take the best advantage of the resources offered.
Become an “insider”
The programs themselves offer a variety of benefits to N-level students. The most immediate benefit is probably the immersion into the polytechnic learning environment. Students admitted into the programs will be taught by polytechnic lecturers instead of their secondary school teachers. The teaching style in a secondary school and a tertiary institution are very different. While secondary school teachers still act as ‘quasi-parents’ in school taking care of students beyond the minimum teaching duty, lecturers in polytechnics seldom go after students to make sure they understand the concepts being taught. Students have to take much greater initiative to learn from lecturers in polytechnics. Hence if a secondary school student gets to experience such learning environment earlier than his/her peers, he/she will have an advantage in knowing how to learn effectively in a new environment.
Fill in the gap
And the advantages do not stop at gaining familiarity. A student usually faces knowledge gap when he/she transits from one school to another. The syllabus used in a secondary school and a polytechnic is seldom coherent and students have to make some effort to repair the missing link in their knowledge chain. Such a problem is reduced if a student can get into such programs. Knowing that the admitted students do not go through Sec. 5, polytechnics will make a greater effort to design the teaching syllabus such that there is smooth transition for students. One can view the programs as a kind of preparatory course where the essential foundation needed for polytechnic education is taught or reinforced.
Learn what you want
For some students, the programs offer a more focused way of learning. Such students usually know what they want to do for their careers, or what they want to specialize in for their studies. Instead of spending one more year in a secondary school where they learn under standard curriculum that is one-size-fit-for-all, they would prefer learning in a polytechnic environment where they have greater freedom in choosing the courses they want to take. For students who are motivated and can direct their own learning, a polytechnic is definitely a better environment than a secondary school for them to develop their skills and intellectual as they desire.
The lost year five?
However, there are still valid concerns towards such programs. N-level is designed to be five years so that a longer duration makes learning more manageable to students. The admission to such polytechnic programs means the lost opportunity to learn what is being taught in year five. Hence what the programs need to do is to compensate the lost learning by offering similar lessons that cover the essential knowledge taught in year five. While the polytechnic education will be more focused and practical-based, it should still bear in mind the need for holistic education. Some of the apparently non-practical subjects taught in N-levels actually help a student’s writing, speaking and critical thinking abilities. The programs need to make sure that students do not move too fast to lose track of learning such essential knowledge and skills.
Mature enough?
Maturity should also be looked into. Since polytechnic environment demands higher discipline and motivation from students, admissions officers need to make sure that students have the maturity, other than academic capability, to excel in the programs. Sometimes, results themselves may not show the whole picture, as a student may get good result under the constant discipline of his/her teachers. If a student falls into such a case, it is better to let him/her have one more year of secondary school education to develop the needed maturity. Perhaps an interview can improve the effectiveness of selection process.
Students and parents definitely welcome the additional channel to get into a polytechnic. We also believe that the existence of such special programs is also a good motivator for students to work hard. The most important thing that we need to do is to make sure that students selected for the programs are indeed most suitable candidates in a holistic sense, not just in terms of exam scores. After all finding the right place for the right people is the whole point of streaming.


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