The calibre of students entering polytechnics this year after completing the O levels has improved, reflecting the better performance of the cohort last year and the rising popularity of polytechnics.
All five polytechnics - Singapore, Temasek, Nanyang, Republic and Ngee Ann - saw a jump this year in the number of courses with lower cut-off points, also referred to as last aggregate scores, indicating better results.
To enter a polytechnic, a student needs a total score - based on the O-level results for English and four other subjects - that does not exceed 26 points.
But if more high-performing students apply for a certain course, with a certain planned intake, the cut-off point is likely to be lower.
About 50 to 70 per cent of courses in the polytechnics had lower cut-off points this year, up from about 5 per cent to 15 per cent in the previous year.
The cut-off levels fell by between one and four points. These courses are in areas such as cybersecurity, hospitality, biomedical science and engineering.
The better overall performance of last year's O-level cohort is a possible reason for the improvement across the polytechnics, their officials said.
The batch did the best in at least two decades - 83.3 per cent scored five passes or more, up from the 82.7 per cent mark set by the 2013 and 2004 cohorts.
This would have made entry into courses more competitive, as more applicants with lower scores push down the cut-off points.
The latest development comes as an increasing number of school-leavers with lower scores, who qualify for junior colleges, join polytechnics instead in recent years, attracted by their range of courses and the practical, hands-on approach.
To enter a junior college, a student's L1R5 score - based on O-level results for English and five relevant subjects - must not exceed 20 points.
Figures from the Ministry of Education (MOE) show the intake of the five polytechnics grew from 25,700 in 2010 to 26,879 in 2013, the latest year for which the complete figure is available.
Associate Professor Jason Tan, an education policy expert at the National Institute of Education, said the quality of students opting for polytechnics has improved in the last few years.
"I would not be surprised if the cut-off points of some of the lower-tier junior colleges may not be as competitive as the popular polytechnic courses," he said.
Improved marketing campaigns and outreach on social media have made secondary school students more aware of polytechnics and more likely to apply for them, he said. "The expansion in the local university sector also tells students that there are more opportunities to move on to degrees after polytechnic."
MOE would not give any reasons for the lower scores. It would only say that the scores of "the last posted students to the polytechnic courses may vary from year to year, depending on factors such as student interest, performance of the cohort, and cohort size".
The Straits Times understands that intake sizes for polytechnics and courses are also decided based on these factors, as well as whether there is industry demand for graduates of the courses.
The cohort size this year is smaller than that of last year, which may mean a smaller intake for each polytechnic course.
This year, about 28,800 candidates were posted to a post-secondary institution, down from 31,800 last year. In both years, 58 per cent of them went to a polytechnic.
Students interviewed said that the polytechnic is no longer "second place" to junior college. They are now aware of their education options after secondary school and choose their path based on interests and abilities, they said.
Student Wang Yi Chieh, 16, chose Singapore Polytechnic's nutrition, health and wellness course this year even though he qualified for junior college with an L1R5 score of 12 points. The course's cut-off point fell by a point from last year to 12 points this year.
The former School of Science and Technology student, who hopes to pursue a career in nutrition and food, said: "I considered junior college at first but, after some thought, I chose the polytechnic because I feel that it equips students better with more relevant knowledge and skills. I think there are more students who can easily get into good junior colleges, but choose poly because they have a clear idea of what they want.
"I like the freedom and being able to plan my own time in polytechnic, instead of having fixed lessons every day."
This article was first published on February 28, 2015.
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