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Millennia offers practical courses

Entrepreneurship and innovation schemes allow for hands-on learning. -ST

Sun, May 30, 2010
The Straits Times

By Eisen Teo

WITH only 30 per cent of its students gaining admission to public universities here, the nation's only centralised institute is giving its curriculum a fillip with a dose of hands-on learning.

Millennia Institute's (MI) first-year students now have two additional enrichment programmes - in entrepreneurship and innovation - to round off their three-year A-level programme.

Introduced earlier this year, the programmes address trends among its students: First, that about 5 per cent drop out in their first year, and second, that a majority - 70 per cent to 75 per cent of its graduates - do not go on to public universities here.

MI usually takes in secondary school leavers whose O-level scores for five subjects are over 20, and A-level aspirants who want a slower pace of learning than that at junior colleges (JCs).

To gird them for jobs and further studies at polytechnics, the courses give them an understanding of how to launch businesses or market ideas.

The experiential learning methods took two years to develop, and were adapted from methods used in vocational schools in Sweden, which two MI teachers visited in 2008.

'They won't just be occupied prepping for exams,' said MI principal Tan Chor Pang, adding that the programmes can 'help them become more certain about what they want to achieve in life'.

Since March, 460 students from MI's first-year cohort have been breaking new ground.

Among other things, the enterprise programme will get its first-year arts and business stream students to set up shop at a shopping centre, and learn the ropes of pricing and customer service.

Those in the science stream take the innovation programme, where they will propose original inventions, discuss practical applications, and present them to a panel of judges.

How well they fare will not be summed up in a grade, but by the success and practicality of their ideas.

From August to November, the best 15 to 30 students from each programme will receive mentoring from a still unconfirmed list of business experts.

Next year, they will get at least $10,000 in seed money to launch their ideas.

MI is the only pre-university institute to offer A-level business subjects such as principles of accounting and management of business.

With its new programmes, MI hopes to attract more business-minded secondary school leavers who qualify for JCs or polytechnics, and to add value for those who cannot make it into either JCs or polytechnics.

Otherwise, Mr Tan pointed out: 'Some students do not see why they need three years to take their A levels, instead of two years.'

Among those in the pioneer batch of students who like what they are learning is 17-year-old Dylan Ang, a first-year arts student who sold Chinese chopsticks and fans at Jurong Point early this month.

He said: 'It's a real eye-opener into the world of business, and my business-minded friends are now inspired to strike out on their own next time.'

MI is hoping that more students will be similarly inspired, and apply for places there.

Its move to add hands-on learning to its academic curriculum keeps pace with offerings at polytechnics and JCs.

Students who choose polytechnics over JCs usually do so to gain experience from work attachments and projects.

Meanwhile, those studying under the Integrated Programme - offered at 11 schools, including five JCs - are extended similar opportunities.

MI was formed from the merger of Outram and Jurong institutes in 2004, and has outlived two other centralised institutes - Seletar and Townsville - which shut their doors in 1997 due to falling enrolment.

Mr Tan says the institute must stay relevant: 'MI remains a place of opportunity for students who want a second chance after not doing well in their O levels.'


This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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