Junior College schemes stretch students' potential

More than 30,000 students took the O-level examinations last year and received their results yesterday. This is the fourth of a five-part daily series on the results and the developments in the educational institutions that students can join after the examinations.

Not many 17-year-olds would enjoy the daunting prospect of making business presentations to entrepreneurs in a foreign land.

But the experience was valuable for Pioneer Junior College (PJC) student Jonathan Loh Ryu Wen, who did so during a research trip and work attachment to Suzhou, China, under the school's Sirius Scholars Programme.

He said: "The projects we had to cover during the trip gave us a chance to practise the application of the business and leadership skills we learnt.

"It also opened up the possibilities that I could pursue in entrepreneurship by letting me try it out for myself."

PJC is among at least eight, out of the 18 junior colleges here, that have started their own programmes to nurture their stronger students in recent years.

These allow such students to benefit from additional programmes, such as overseas immersion trips, job attachments and workshops for skills training, including that for handling interviews.

PJC was one of the earliest to start such a programme, doing so in 2006, while St Andrew's Junior College (SAJC), which started its Talent Development Programme in 2011, is among the latest.

Students in SAJC's programme are divided between the Humanities Scholarship Programme and the Science Scholarship Programme, and placed into specific classes.

The junior colleges said they started such programmes to stretch the potential of these students and expose them to more experiences and opportunities.

Demand for these programmes has been increasing at some junior colleges.

The number of students in SAJC's programme has risen from 17 students in 2011 to about 80 last year, while PJC expanded its programme intake from 50 students in 2006 to 122 last year.

The additional opportunities and experiences offered through the programme may also have helped the relatively young PJC attract brighter students who could have otherwise joined other schools, said its principal, Madam Kek Lee Yong.

Its cut-off point for entry, using the L1R5 score - based on O-level results for English and five relevant subjects - has fallen from 17 points in 2009 to 14 points last year. This suggests that more students with lower scores, indicating better results, are applying to the college.

On the other hand, some junior colleges have taken to limiting the intake for such programmes, such as National Junior College, which maintains the number of students in its Sapphire Scholars Programme at 120 each year.

Its vice-principal, Mr Chan Choon Loong, said: "We limit the numbers to keep the number of students within the programme manageable. As far as possible, we want to preserve a good teacher-to-student ratio of one to one, to ensure the best results for our activities."

Some of the activities in these programmes are compulsory for participants, but they can select other electives, based on their school workload.

PJC student Natasha Ann Lum Mei Seem, 17, who is in the college's scholars programme, said: "Teacher mentors will give advice on whether students are taking on too much, or too little. The choice is ultimately yours, so it gives you a lot of free rein."

SAJC student Lok Hui Yi, 17, who is in the college's Humanities Scholarship Programme, said: "Participating in the immersion programmes and skills-training sessions, such as the critical thinking workshop, has helped me to take constructive criticism, set personal goals and expect higher achievements from myself. It takes us beyond the usual scope of our academic work."