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Polytechnics Increase intake

Polytechnics: relevant and important

After the secondary school education, Singapore students have to make a decision, probably the first major decision they are going to make in their lives. It’s a decision about where to go for further education: a junior college that leads to university, or a polytechnic that leads to work upon graduation. While junior colleges are generally perceived as a ‘better’ choice, there are an increasing number of students who are opting for polytechnics. The trend is reinforced as the government is trying to increase the intake of students into polytechnics, besides channeling additional resources to aid their expansion.

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Polytechnics Increase intake

Polytechnics Increase intake

The government policy reflects the importance it attaches to polytechnics education, which is vocationally oriented.

The system does not focus on general education in the form of pure science, humanities or arts, but emphasizes practical knowledge and hands-on application3. This gives the education a distinct advantage in the employment landscape in Singapore. Singapore is an ideal place of foreign direct investment that is an essential part of the country’s growth. Most of the investment, probably contrary to what many people may suppose, is not in knowledge-intensive areas such as Research and Development. The bulk of the investment involves workers of medium-level skills, such as factory engineers, instead of pure scientists. Some factories also employ low-skill labor such as assembly workers to manufacture laptop computers or other electronic goods. All these demand a substantial supply of medium-skill labor, many of which actually come from polytechnics. The polytechnics graduates, with their practical understanding of their work, require relatively short transitional period when they move out of schools and move into workplaces. They can quickly add value to the companies, often directly using what they learnt in lectures or laboratories. Hence they are a dynamic group of labor force that contributes to economic growth using their practical skills.

More for all

Polytechnics are also important channels to divert schooling population away from A-levels or other university entrance examinations, so as to relieve the pressure in the ‘mainstream’ system. Students who are more suited to specialize early are encouraged to consider polytechnics, so that they can start doing what they want to do earlier compared to university graduates. Many courses offered by polytechnics, such as media and design, enjoy great popularity due to the rising media design industry in Singapore. The polytechnics are like express ways by which students who are clear about what they want to do in their lives can have focused education and quicker access to relevant employment opportunities. On the other hand, as a portion of students are diverted away from the standardized examinations, the remaining students face less pressure. As the government is trying to increase the intake of polytechnics, there will be more balanced allocation of students. In fact, countries like China where students face enormous pressure preparing for university entrance examinations are following the example of Singapore to set up more polytechnics as alternatives to universities. By putting students in the right group, we make sure each student faces the correct type of education and the competition is checked by a more balanced allocation of candidates for different types of exams.

Good intentions may not guarantee good results

Despite the benefits of setting up polytechnics, the government should take care of the practical implementation to make sure the benefits are realized and delivered. First, when the government is trying to step up the intake, it should always do so in accordance with the changes of the economy, especially the growth of the sector that requires medium-skill workers in Singapore. If the supply of polytechnics graduates is greater than the industry demand, unemployment for this group of students will rise. This is particularly harmful considering that students choosing polytechnics because of their career mindedness. If their original motivation of going to polytechnics is not fulfilled, they may choose to go junior colleges and fight for limited places in university, aggravating the intense academic competition as a result.


Moreover, though polytechnics offer more practical education than universities, they shouldn’t neglect theories and overly focus on application. Especially in the ever-changing economy where the speed of knowledge becoming obsolete is fast, the ability to learn as one works is much more important than mastering a fixed set of skills during vocational education. Hence, a reasonable level of theoretical education provides a good foundation for independent learning, as one has the big picture in mind, in addition to the detailed application. Such an education will better prepare our graduates to be adaptable and have the ability for lifelong learning.

It is true that junior colleges still enjoy greater prestige. But the best decision is always done when one is consulting his heart, not the opinions of other people. Polytechnics are great places for students who excel in focused areas and who want to receive specialized education and have a head start in their careers6. The taste of the pudding is in the eating. Only they themselves know how it tastes. What we as general society can do is to respect individual choices and give more support to this important component of our educational system.

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