School of Science and Technology's focus on applied learning bears fruit

Alumni from the pioneer batch of the School of Science and Technology, Singapore: (from left) NUS law student Khit Sue Lun, Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate Jurvis Tan, and NUS medical student Grace Tan. Statistics compiled by SST on the paths that its
Alumni from the pioneer batch of the School of Science and Technology, Singapore: (from left) NUS law student Khit Sue Lun, Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate Jurvis Tan, and NUS medical student Grace Tan. Statistics compiled by SST on the paths that its pioneer cohort of about 190 have taken show that seven in 10 of them have continued with paths in Stem-related fields.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Data on pioneer cohort shows many taking Stem paths, and also doing well academically

When the new School of Science and Technology, Singapore (SST) was first announced by then Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in 2008, the school had to grapple with misconceptions among the public.

"People didn't understand what applied learning (in SST) was and thought that it was vocational training," recounted SST's vice-principal Chew Wai Lee, who was part of SST's pioneer team of educators when it opened in 2010.

Then, the school was given the mandate of nurturing "students with inventive minds, people who will keep looking for a different way of doing things".

It offers an alternative to mainstream secondary schools for those who have an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) and have a Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) score of at least 200 that qualifies them for the Express stream.

The school's applied learning approach focuses on getting students to apply what they learn to the real world.

A strong foundation in the fields of Stem is also built, as these are fields that experts have identified as crucial areas of knowledge in the future economy, and vital for grooming the next generation of innovators.

Close to a decade on, the school has proven its mettle.

BETTER ENGAGEMENT

Research has shown that getting students to see the relevance and application of what they are studying to the real world brings about higher levels of engagement.

And indeed, our observations of our students have shown this.

MRS CHEW WAI LEE, SST's vice-principal , who was part of SST's pioneer team of educators when it opened in 2010.

Statistics compiled by SST on the paths that its pioneer cohort of about 190 have taken show that seven in 10 of them have continued with paths in Stem-related fields, be it university courses, polytechnics or entrepreneurial ventures.

These figures were drawn from a survey of about 160 students from the batch who responded to SST.

They have also done well academically in the institutions that they have moved on to. For SST's first batch of students, one in three of students who went on to polytechnic - 40 per cent of the cohort - also graduated with a diploma with merit, which is usually awarded to not more than the top 10 per cent of each graduating course cohort.

Students who went on to pursue the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma - about 5 per cent of the cohort - received average scores of above 40 out of 45. Statistics on those who moved on to junior college are not available.

Alumni who have continued to pursue such fields include students like 20-year-old Ho Yan Jin, a second year aeronautical engineering student at Imperial College London and a recipient of the Singapore Armed Forces Engineering Scholarship.

Another is Mr Jurvis Tan, 20, who recently graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a diploma in infocomm technology after stints as a software engineering intern at local start-up Carousell and UserTesting, a user experience research company in Silicon Valley.

Mrs Chew said that SST is encouraged by the paths that its students have taken after graduation.

"Research has shown that getting students to see the relevance and application of what they are studying to the real world brings about higher levels of engagement," she said. "And indeed, our observations of our students have shown this."

Application numbers to the school have held steady over the years, with the school accepting about 20 per cent of the more than 1,000 students who apply every year. All of them apply through the Direct School Admission scheme.

But SST principal Linda Chan stressed that the school does not see the fact that a majority of its students enter Stem-related fields as a key indicator of its success. "It's not so much about the numbers but about helping each child to play and explore so that they can find their passion and purpose."

SST alumna Khit Sue Lun, a second-year law student at National University of Singapore, said that her education at the school has benefited her even though she did not choose a Stem-related pathway after graduation.

"Although SST is a science-focused school, it also has a good humanities programme, so it wasn't like we had missed out in terms of that. You still get to go through the O levels (and choose different pathways after that), but I had a lot more fun (because of its hands-on approach)," said the 20-year-old.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2017, with the headline 'SST's focus on applied learning bears fruit'. Print Edition | Subscribe