Polytechnics to allow students to spread out studies beyond 3 years

Temasek Polytechnic graduate Crystal Teo completed her diploma over a period of four years because of a medical condition. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CRYSTAL TEO

SINGAPORE - Ms Crystal Teo had to miss multiple examinations in her first two years at Temasek Polytechnic because of a medical condition, which also led to her fainting during a make-up examination and having to be rushed to hospital.

Yet, the 22-year-old managed to graduate with stellar grades and launch a start-up.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the polytechnic.

Taking note of her medical condition, the polytechnic allowed Ms Teo to extend her studies by a year and complete the modules she missed when she was well enough.

Now a first-year Singapore Management University business student, Ms Teo said: "With more time, I could manage the start-up my friend and I started in 2018, when he was busy with his internship.

"I could also complete the compulsory modules that I had to repeat to pursue a specialisation in international business and entrepreneurship."

On Friday (Jan 7), Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman announced that polytechnics will explore having a more flexible curriculum for selected students who would benefit from spreading out their learning over more than three years.

This was among six recommendations following a review of Singapore's polytechnic education, as well as that of Institutes of Technical Education, led by Dr Maliki that began in January last year (2021).

Ms Teo hopes that greater flexibility will help more students to accept peers who need more time to complete the course without dismissing them as academically weaker.

She said: "The stigma against those who need more time could lead to some feeling bad about themselves, even though it might just be because they had to take time off for health reasons or to pursue other interests.

"During Year 3 and 4, I worked hard to prove that taking a longer time did not mean that I was any less (competent)."

Ngee Ann Polytechnic principal and chief executive Lim Kok Kiang said students who wish to pursue their passions may also get the option of taking a gap semester.

Temasek Polytechnic principal and chief executive Peter Lam said a flexible curriculum also includes allowing students to take fewer modules instead of the usual five or six modules per semester.

He added that students can either request the alternative track, or the school will identify and propose this option to students whom it feels will benefit from a more flexible curriculum.

Meanwhile, Singapore Polytechnic will look at how it can support enterprising students to "bring their budding business ideas to fruition while they are studying, without the pressure of completing their course within three years", said principal and chief executive Soh Wai Wah.

To better support a diverse range of learners, Republic Polytechnic principal and chief executive Yeo Li Pheow said the polytechnic will be piloting a customised study programme this year where students with different learning abilities can opt for a more flexible load during the semester.

Temasek Polytechnic graduate Crystal Teo (second from left) was allowed to extend her studies by a year after missing multiple examinations in her first two years because of a medical condition. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CRYSTAL TEO

Nanyang Polytechnic principal and chief executive Jeanne Liew said that under the recommendation, every student can proactively work with the polytechnic to plan his academic load and curriculum.

Currently, the polytechnic plans for reduced academic loads for those who have trouble coping academically - for example, a student whose personal circumstances affect his ability to cope with his studies. The polytechnic allows short periods of sanctioned leave for those joining national or international competitions.

National shooter Martina Lindsay Veloso, who received special arrangements and support from her lecturers and classmates while studying sports and wellness management at Nanyang Polytechnic, said the move will help ease academic pressure for athletes with gruelling competition calendars.

The 22-year-old was allowed in 2017 to take a special paper, which is granted on a case-by-case basis, after she missed both the actual and alternative examinations because of the SEA Games - where she bagged a gold medal.

The part-time student at Singapore University of Social Sciences said: "It's a great thing for us to hear that athletes don't have to compromise on sports or school."

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