SINGAPORE - When he was in Fuhua Secondary School, Mr Teo Chuan Kai got a taste of polytechnic life after taking up a five-day advance elective module on cyber security.
It was enough to spark his interest in the field, and after scoring six points (L1R4) in the O levels, he decided to take up a diploma course in infocomm security management at Singapore Polytechnic.
Mr Teo was one of nine polytechnic graduates who received a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship on Wednesday afternoon (July 17). This is the highest number of polytechnic recipients yet.
Last year, and also in 2017 and 2015, just one scholarship was awarded to a polytechnic graduate; in 2016, there were three.
Speaking at the award ceremony, held at the Parkroyal on Beach Road hotel, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said there is a need for diversity in Singapore's public service sector.
"Many foreign commentators say that we have one of the best, if not the best public service in the world. Some of them even give us a backhanded compliment and ask, 'Is your public service for hire?' No, it's not for hire, not for sale," said Mr Chan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Public Service.
"But we are never complacent, and this is why the PSC is constantly evolving and renewing the way we select the next generation of public service scholars who hopefully will, in time, take over the leadership responsibility of this country.
"Today's public service is different from the public service of the past but that need for diversity has never changed, the need for teamwork has never changed."
PSC chairman Lee Tzu Yang added: "A PSC scholarship is an opportunity to serve the public, and we look beyond 'smarts' for qualities like integrity, dedication to service and excellence.
"This year, we looked harder into areas to seek potential talent. In addition to a wider range of schools, we worked with polytechnics to encourage interest in a public service career... Achieving diversity requires us to select more effectively from a larger number of candidates."
He noted that PSC is exploring the use of game-based assessments as an additional selection tool, adding: "We will continue to look for ways to widen the selection process."
A total of 93 PSC scholarships - 90 undergraduate and three post-graduate - were awarded this year to recipients from 17 institutions, which is also a new record. About 2,200 people had applied.
However, while there has been a push for diversity in recent years, a large proportion of PSC scholarship recipients still hail from elite schools.
A spokesman for the commission told The Straits Times that about 60 per cent of PSC scholarship holders in the past five years have come from Raffles Institution and Hwa Chong Institution.
Mr Teo, 19, was awarded a PSC Scholarship (Engineering), which was first introduced in 2017 and had a total of 16 recipients this year.
He said: "The way the polytechnics presented their curriculum was far more interesting than regular subjects - they have modules like cryptography, for instance."
Last year, he did an internship at the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), which opened him to the possibility of serving in the public sector.
Mr Teo, who lives with his parents, paternal grandparents and younger sister, is choosing to read information security at the National University of Singapore so he can spend more time with his family.
He is one of 29 scholarship recipients who have chosen to study locally this year - the highest number in a decade.
Added Mr Teo: "I'm honoured to have the opportunity to contribute in the field that I have an interest in.
"When I applied for the scholarship, I told myself, 'If I get it, I will take it with both hands'."