Committeeof Supply debate: Ministry of Education

When aptitude scores over grades

Mr Jonathan Goh did not meet the requirement of nine or fewer points but the 20-year-old still managed to secure a place at Ngee Ann Polytechnic's diploma in arts business management programme via the Direct Polytechnic Admissions exercise, which con
Mr Jonathan Goh did not meet the requirement of nine or fewer points but the 20-year-old still managed to secure a place at Ngee Ann Polytechnic's diploma in arts business management programme via the Direct Polytechnic Admissions exercise, which considers a student's aptitude and interests beyond academic grades.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Wanting to start a circus arts company after having been involved in the scene since he was 10, 20-year-old Jonathan Goh decided he first needed a diploma in arts business management at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It would help him gain exposure to the local creative arts scene and learn more about managing events such as art festivals.

But to qualify for the programme, one of the poly's more popular courses, he needed a total O-level score for English and four other subjects of nine or fewer points. Mr Goh scored 19 after sitting his O levels in 2014.

But the former Montfort Secondary School student still got a place through the Direct Polytechnic Admissions (DPA) exercise, which considers students' aptitudes and interests beyond their academic grades.

He had to prepare a write-up justifying why he should get a place in the course, put together a portfolio of his achievements, including his co-curricular activities, and have an interview with course lecturers, who asked him about his average grades.

Soon, the DPA will be replaced by an Early Admissions Exercise. In Parliament yesterday, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said such aptitude-based admissions schemes are not as straightforward and efficient as allocating places by grades.

"When you introduce other measures of student ability, it calls for an exercise of judgment. Between a 12-pointer who is not interested in a course, and a 16-pointer who is very interested, who would you choose?" he added.

"This goes beyond making decisions based on one metric, but making a judgment call. This requires wiser minds."

Mr Goh, who enjoys entertaining crowds, hopes what he learns from the diploma programme will help him grow the circus arts community here.

"I want to change the misconception that the circus is for clowns," he said. "It takes perseverance to learn skills, and there is a lot of work that goes into each performance."

Calvin Yang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline 'When aptitude scores over grades'. Print Edition | Subscribe