From ‘PM Lee: Polytechnics a jewel in Singapore’s educational system’, 3 May 2013, article by Robin Chan, ST
Getting a degree is not the only option for polytechnic students after they graduate, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Working for a few years or even starting their own business can offer important life lessons and help them go further in life, he said today as Ngee Ann Polytechnic celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“You will gain experience and understand yourself better and then be better able to decide what the next step will be. These life lessons will complement your polytechnic education and help you to go further in life,” he said.
Mr Lee praised the polytechnic education system calling it “a jewel in our educational system” that offers a first rate tertiary education to about 50 per cent of each cohort of students.
In 2008, it was reported that many bright students who could have qualified for JC opted for a poly education instead, which may explain our PM’s use of the jewel analogy to describe students who could SHINE bright as a diamond in a poly environment. Yet despite such lofty praises, our Government itself remains conspicuous by its absence of poly grads. While the Workers’ Party have Singapore Poly grads in Png Eng Huat and Muhamed Faisal, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Charles Chong, who holds a Diploma in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering from the Sydney Technical College, was the only non-uni grad PAP MP in Parliament as of 2008. The lack of ‘jewels’ in Cabinet explains all the lacklustre policies, then. Some portfolios, like Housing for example, are probably better off managed by Bob the Builder than someone of university calibre but can’t construct a basic Lego house without an instruction manual.
The poly route was not always held in such high esteem. In 1984, the Educational Ministry were worried about the BRAIN DRAIN caused by smart students choosing to go poly instead of JC, mainly due to their fear of the General Paper. Minister of State (Education) Tay Eng Soon said that these students should ‘make the most of themselves‘ by choosing pre-U instead of getting a polytechnic diploma, short of saying that it would be WASTE that top scorers didn’t pursue their education in a more ‘prestigious’ institution. Which had several students actually changing their minds about a poly education thanks to Tay’s sage advice. A year later, our then Education Minister and current President Tony Tan ‘urged top O level students to go to junior colleges first’. A paragraph in the article ‘Top grads at NTI took indirect path’ deserves to be reproduced in its hideous entirety:
It (the government) wants BRIGHT O level students to join junior colleges, where they will get a BROAD-BASED education, and not deprive LESS ABLE pupils of a place in the polytechnics.
I suppose we all know who the shining star of the educational system was back then. But wait, in less than 2 years, we would see the same Minister Tay do an astounding about-face upon realising that there was a shortage of students doing mechanical engineering in the polytechnics, expressing concern of the ‘large number who have joined JCs’ and thinks ‘it may be better’ for the WEAKER students to do poly instead. All the university and post-doc education in the world will not save you from making atrocious flip-floppy decisions and sabotaging the careers of budding poly luminaries who went on to waste their lives with GP instead. A blind, amputee clown could do a better balancing act with a unicycle on a fiery tightrope than the highest paid of ministers.
So perceptions of poly have changed for the better. Or have they? Up till now, poly students still do not enjoy the same travel concessions as their JC peers, which was explained away by Transport Minister Raymond Lim in 2009 that ‘some polytechnic students are better off than others’ (and latter clarified by the minister’s press secretary that he meant poly students were a ‘large and diverse’ group, which explains NOTHING). His successor Lui Tuck Yew continued to defend depriving poly students of concessions, saying that fare subsidies would cost transport operators $28 MILLION more. In March this year, chairman of the Fare Review Mechanism Committee Richard Magnus stated in a blog post that ‘polytechnic students AND the disabled are being considered for improved concessions’. Where’s the segment of the President’s Star Charity that donates to neglected poly students then? Full fares AND frequent breakdowns. Oh the humanity.
Calling poly the jewel of the educational system, though well-intentioned, may very well be as patronising and almost apologetic as calling the child who’s not tall enough to take a rollercoaster ‘a growing, striking lad’. Let’s hope no one up there scrambles to keep university places filled while our most inventive minds pursue the Jewel path like what happened decades ago (though they probably have foreigners to make up for this ‘reverse osmosis’ already). Perhaps one shouldn’t take PM’s analogies seriously. After all, he’s somewhat the consummate joker and called some waterway in the North East of Singapore the VENICE OF PUNGGOL. Like a jewel, his wit and timing is totally PRICELESS.