The pioneer batch of students who got into polytechnics through a fast-track scheme has set the bar high for its juniors.
Some have gone on to top their cohorts, while others have won awards for outstanding performance in various fields.
They are the pioneers of the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP), which is offered by all five polytechnics to prepare Secondary 4 Normal (Academic) students for direct entry into diploma courses.
The year-long programme offers a practice-oriented curriculum with modules taught by polytechnic lecturers and allows students to skip Secondary 5 and the O levels.
The first batch of some 800 PFP students, who were placed on the programme four years ago, will graduate at various polytechnic ceremonies this month.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) told The Straits Times that the first PFP batch has performed well. It added that some students will be receiving institution-level awards and prizes in recognition of their holistic achievements.
While it would not give figures on how the cohort performed, the ministry cited "encouraging results from our pioneer PFP batch".
MOE said "students enjoy similar education and development opportunities in the polytechnics", regardless of their admissions pathway.
Among the many PFP graduates who have done well is Republic Polytechnic's Clive Chia Chun. The 21-year-old, who studied electrical and electronic engineering, topped his cohort with a perfect 4.0 grade point average (GPA). He will receive the Lee Kuan Yew Award for Mathematics and Science given to the top technology or computer science graduates.
It was not all rosy, though. At the end of Secondary 2, he had to transfer from the Express to the Normal (Academic) stream at Chung Cheng High School (Yishun).
"I failed my exams and I hated going to school," he said.
In fact, he got through the N levels five years ago "by memorising everything". He later applied for the PFP, allowing him to skip Secondary 5.
Mr Chia, who hopes to enter a university after his national service, said the programme was a fresh start for him. "I was determined to do my best and not be a failure like I was in secondary school," he added.
PFP students are given provisional places in diploma courses. They will secure their places if they pass all their PFP modules.
At Ngee Ann Polytechnic, 132 students from the first PFP cohort will graduate. Nine of them are gold or silver medallists of their course. These medals are awarded to outstanding graduates of each course.
At Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), 163 students from the first PFP batch will graduate this year, with 15 getting top awards. Nearly half (44 per cent) of this pioneer cohort have made it to the director's list - by excelling academically in the semester at least once during their three-year diploma programme.
The polytechnic said PFP students generally do very well when they move on to their first year as they take domain-specific foundation modules designed to help them adapt to their diploma studies.
"Many have outperformed their O-level peers," it added.
NYP animation student Rebecca Lou, 20, who opted for the PFP despite acing her N levels, felt the alternative route would allow her to pursue her passion earlier. "I love animations. They were a huge part of my childhood," she said.
The former Anderson Secondary student graduates this month with a GPA of 3.96, and will receive the Lee Hsien Loong Award for outstanding all-round achievement. She has received at least five job offers from companies such as The Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia and Infinite Studios.
She said the PFP allowed her to adjust to the polytechnic system ahead of her peers. "It has definitely given me more than just a head start. It worked as a more relevant and exciting pathway to my dream course," she said. "If I came in by any other way, I would have turned out a little different."