Schemes that provide alternative routes for N-level students to gain entry to polytechnic - instead of moving on to Secondary 5 to sit the O levels - have been attracting more applications since they were first launched in 2012.
Since 2013, the proportion of eligible students who applied for the two-year Direct-Entry-Scheme to Polytechnic Programme (DPP) has grown by 10 per cent.
The proportion of those who applied for the year-long Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) has grown by 5 per cent over the same period, said the Ministry of Education (MOE).
These schemes are reserved for Normal (Academic) students who have done well in their N levels.
Madam Sung Mee Har, principal of Hong Kah Secondary School, said that most of her students who were offered a chance to go for the PFP will take it up.
"In the past, everyone will choose to move on to Sec 5 if they can, because that was how they could get a place in polytechnic. But that has changed," she said.
Top N(A) students, who receive a score of not more than 11 points in their N levels and have at least a grade three for both English and mathematics, are eligible for the PFP.
They go on to the polytechnics to do a one-year preparatory course, taught by polytechnic lecturers, that covers English, mathematics, and domain-specific modules such as life sciences or physics.
If they pass all their modules, they will move on to the first year of their chosen diploma course.
Temasek Polytechnic student Chew Harris Rezal opted for the PFP when he scored 11 points for his N levels in 2012.
"My learning style is more hands-on and practical so I thought I'd prefer the PFP over Sec 5," said Mr Chew, 20, who is in his final year of an infocomm and network engineering diploma course.
Like the PFP, the DPP guarantees students a place in a polytechnic if they meet the qualifying grade. N(A) students are eligible for the DPP if they score not more than 19 points, with at least grade four for English and mathematics, in the N-level exams.
Under the DPP, students spend two years in a Higher Nitec course at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and are guaranteed a spot in a polytechnic if they meet the minimum grade point average, which is between 2.5 and 3.
This year, about 1,000 students have been admitted to the DPP, similar to the past few years.
The students attend a 10-week preparatory course, starting in January, that covers oral and communication skills and topics such as maths and business. They then go on to the Higher Nitec courses, which begin in April.
Poh Jia Qi, 17, was one of those who chose to go for the DPP when he got his N-level results last year. He is now doing a Higher Nitec course in information technology at ITE College West, and said that he enjoys the change of pace from a secondary school timetable.
"Most of our assignments are completed in school and we do more practical tasks, like coding and setting up a router," said Jia Qi, who hopes to study information technology in polytechnic.
The MOE said that most of students in the DPP have completed the programme and obtained a Higher Nitec, and a "significant proportion" of them have moved on to polytechnics, though it did not give specific figures. Most of the students in the PFP have also moved on to polytechnics.
Students who fail the PFP are not allowed to repeat. They may apply for the ITE's Higher Nitec programmes, approach their secondary schools for readmission in the following year or take the O-level exams as private candidates.
Dr Mike Cheong, assistant director of foundation and general studies at Nanyang Polytechnic, said that many PFP students have outperformed their O-level peers. Measures that the school has in place to help students cope with studies include providing remedial lessons and assigning mentors, who counsel students, to PFP classes.
Mr Loo Ming Yaw, principal of Mayflower Secondary School, lauded the introduction of the PFP and and DPP schemes, saying that it "has played a significant role in motivating the N(A) students to work hard for their N levels because the pathways are available only to students in their stream".
Smooth transition when he took the direct-entry routeStudent Lek Tai Yong did his research after sitting the N levels and decided he wanted a diploma in social enterprise management from Republic Polytechnic. He qualified for the course through the Polytechnic Foundation Programme.Photo: The Straits Times
When he was in Secondary 3, Mr Lek Tai Yong picked up the personal finance best-seller Rich Dad, Poor Dad and decided that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.
"It opened my eyes to the world of business, and I wanted to innovate and come up with something interesting," recalled Mr Lek, now 19.
The former Pasir Ris Crest Secondary School student, whose father used to own a business in the mariculture industry, set his sights on joining the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP). He qualified with a score of 11 points when he took his N levels in 2013.
Mr Lek did his research and found out that Republic Polytechnic offered a business course with a twist - a diploma in social enterprise management.
He applied for the course through the one-year PFP, which subsequently allowed him to skip the O levels and enter the diploma programme directly.
"I believe the future of business is not just in doing well, but doing good," said Mr Lek, who is now in his second year.
He is working with friends to launch a personal and career development platform for youth.
While he reckons that he would not have had the chance to learn about entrepreneurship if he had moved on to Sec 5, he said that the polytechnic also gave him many opportunities to explore his interests.
On top of joining a youth entrepreneurship and co-operative interest group when he was in the PFP, he learnt how to set up a website using programming languages and picked up skills like project management and marketing.
He also appreciated being able to experience life on a polytechnic campus.
"The transition to polytechnic is smoother and I got to interact with older students who give you a different perspective of life," he said.
While student life in the PFP can be busy at times, Mr Lek said that the environment at school is not a competitive one.
"Because of the culture in PFP, everyone wants to do well and succeed. But it's not a zero-sum game, and people will be happy for you if you achieve something."
This article was first published on Dec 27, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.