ITE rate of success on the uptrend

85% awarded full certificates last year; school pushing to do even better

An Institute of Technical Education College East student helping to check the eye pressure of a senior citizen.
An Institute of Technical Education College East student helping to check the eye pressure of a senior citizen. PHOTO: RYAN ANG

More students are completing their courses at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Last year, 85 per cent graduated from the vocational institute with a full certificate within three years, up from 78 per cent a decade ago.

ITE chief executive Bruce Poh told The Straits Times that it hopes to push the success rate to 87 per cent this year.

In an interview with The Straits Times, he said the improvement is a result of several factors, beyond helping students in their studies.

"Many of the students who come to us have socio-emotional issues, whether from the family, or they might not have been performing well in school," he said, adding that some have self-esteem problems.


More students have been able to cross the financial hurdle, with the help of bursaries from the ITE, community development councils and citizens consultative committees or the Education Ministry.

Some 52 per cent of ITE students are on financial aid, up from 43 per cent from 2011 to 2013.

Last year, about 900 students benefited from a special one-off allowance meant to help them tide over short-term financial difficulties, up from 500 in 2011.

The ITE also started an initiative in 2010 to give students $150 each month for expenses such as meals and transport. More than 1,200 needy students receive these funds each year.

On the socio-emotional front, the institution has also hired more student-care officers who counsel students. It now has 14, from just four in 2006.

Since last year, the ITE has recruited 11 educational psychologists and learning support specialists to support students with special needs.

Students also meet their class advisers, who are like "form teachers", for an hour of bonding each week. Some lecturers make regular home visits to find out more about students' backgrounds.

Mr Kenny Tan, 47, a senior ITE lecturer in electronics, said that class advisers lend a listening ear to students, adding: "We spend time with them almost every day and talk to them about their difficulties and try to guide them to find solutions."

Mr Poh said students also get a boost of confidence when they can "showcase their talent and leadership" in co-curricular activities.

The number of such activities at ITE has grown from 110 in 2006 to more than 250 this year.

These "small successes" encourage them and "lead to bigger successes", he said.

Mr Poh also said students are more engaged when they learn in workplace settings, and adding more training facilities such as hospital wards since 2005 has helped.

"A junior college student can sit down and listen to lectures for two hours - you can't expect that from an ITE student," he said. "But if you do work on an actual machine... it's more engaging for them... so you must create the kind of environment to suit their learning styles."

Mr Tan, who has been with the ITE for 16 years, said that the public image of the vocational institute has improved in the past five years.

"This gives students more confidence, especially when they come to campus and see the physical environment and facilities," he said.

"They remember that society has not forgotten about them and has invested in them."

ITE also plans to do more to help its weakest students stay in school. From last year, it started offering an extended programme for students who struggle to complete their Nitec studies in two years.

The scheme, which first took in 180 students last year, gives them an extra year to focus on literacy and numeracy skills.

"For slower learners who are poor in English and mathematics, a three-year programme may be more helpful so their chances of success might be higher," said Mr Poh.

In recent years, ITE lecturers have begun working with a number of schools to help students with poor Primary School Leaving Examination results by providing skills training and certification in areas such as hospitality and mechanical servicing.

These schools are its three subsidiaries - Northlight School, Crest Secondary School and Spectra Secondary School - as well as Assumption Pathway School.

Said Mr Tan: "It's tough to get students to stay in school when they have many family and social problems, but it's very rewarding to see them persevere and grow."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'ITE rate of success on the uptrend'. Print Edition | Subscribe