The Great Debate

In view of the release of the 2016 O Level results, students must make an important choice of applying to a Junior College or Polytechnic. Aside from the controversial Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), the selection for the post-secondary route has also become a popular discussion topic that made its way to local news. Parents expressed concerns due to the longstanding belief that this important decision determines the future career prospects of their children, starting from the likelihood of gaining entry to the university. As such, this article provides students and parents with an in-depth and organized discussion of the critical factors that will help them to make an informed decision.

Each A Level subject focuses on a more scholarly approach in terms of content and stretches the student with the depth of the content. These content lean towards theoretical concepts with an aim to drill scholastic skills into the students and prepare them for the academic rigours of university.

Available Subjects and Depth of Learning

What better to start than with deciphering the available courses as well as the depth of learning for these two educational routes. Starting with JCs, subjects tend to be less specialised but more in depth. Each subject focus on a more scholarly approach in terms of content and stretches the student with the depth of the content. These content lean towards theoretical concepts with an aim to drill scholastic skills into the students and prepare them for the academic rigours of university. For example, the A Level General Paper conceptualises profound knowledge in different forms, drives the students into elaborate analysis of different topics and nurture opinionated thinking for students, thereby developing their expressive individuality.

In contrast, Polytechnics zoom into application skills and works on the breadth of the subjects. This is done by exposing students to hands-on approaches that refines their career-specific skillsets. Furthermore, Polytechnics offer a wide range of courses that appeals to the preferences of students, such as Business Administration, Hotel Management, and Interactive and Digital Media.

Duration of Study

As for the duration of study, a JC curriculum lasts 2 years while a Polytechnic curriculum typically lasts 3 years. This, however, does not indicate that those who enrol in Polytechnic are slower than their JC peers since they graduate later. Contrary to conventional thinking, both educational routes are similar, in terms of the value of education and the outcome of being more knowledgeable and skilful. JC students focus on the development of thinking and writing skills, whereas Polytechnic students build up their project management, presentation and industry-specific skills.

Students in JC undertake 2 accelerated years by honing their academic skills before sitting for a major examination, also known as the A (Advanced) Levels, which decides their next path of educational level. On the other hand, Polytechnic students spend 3 years sharpening application skills such that they are prepared for the workforce once they graduate with a diploma.

Polytechnic students embark on projects based on their field of study and conduct insightful researches. They channel their results into presentations where they must illustrate what they have achieved in their research and aim to convey their ideas clearly to a panel of educators.

Format of Assessment

As for the assessment format, the learning curriculum for JCs revolves around 3 major areas, the arduous lectures; the engaging class tutorials and the much-feared examinations. This A Level learning curriculum encompasses a systematic approach wherein lectures are related to the tutorials, which in turn prepare students for the examinations. First, lectures start with imparting information to students to establish a sound foundation in concepts. Second, tutorials enable students to apply their newfound knowledge to practice questions. Third, students are assessed in their ability to integrate knowledge and answer challenging questions. Generally, the JC curriculum likens that of Secondary education, albeit far more in-depth.

In Polytechnics, there are three areas of assessment, namely projects, presentations, and examinations. Polytechnic students embark on projects based on their field of study and conduct insightful researches. They channel their results into presentations where they must illustrate what they have achieved in their research and aim to convey their ideas clearly to a panel of educators. Finally, the examinations are conducted to test their ability to apply theoretical knowledge to questions. The Polytechnic curriculum is likened to the university education.

Entry of Universities and Job Prospects

In terms of the likelihood of entering universities, JCs are ahead of Polytechnics in terms of cohort participation rate (CPR): 70% to 20%. This supports the popular notion that JC students have a better chance of entering local universities than their counterparts.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that the Polytechnic students will graduate with a diploma, which gives them a career head-start, as they can accumulate working experience before the JC students, who must pursue a university education before entering the workforce.

  • JC students secured places in local universities 70%
  • Polytechnic students gained entry to local universities 20%

School Culture

One can say that the cultures of both educational routes are on the extreme ends of the spectrum. In Polytechnics, curriculum tends to be more spaced out such that students can include additional co-curricular activities (CCAs). From a third person’s standpoint, the Polytechnic experience appears more enjoyable as students are endowed with the freedom to plan their timetables and partake in social activities.

Nevertheless, the emphasis on academic achievements is essential as students will develop critical thinking and writing skills that will become their bread and butter during university education and at work.

In JCs, less time is catered for extra-curriculum activities as lessons fill up the bulk of the timetable. Also, students are reminded to complete their assignments and study for tests and examinations. Consequently, the close monitoring by the educators puts pressure on students to perform, which leads to accumulation of stress. Nevertheless, the emphasis on academic achievements is essential as students will develop critical thinking and writing skills that will become their bread and butter during university education and at work. Besides, JCs offer a plethora of CCAs and student-initiated activities that enrich the learning experience of students. For instance, Student Council, Debate Club, and Ultimate Frisbee.

Dress Code

One distinguishing factor for these two educational routes is the dress code standards. Students that enrol in the Polytechnics are allowed to decide their own attire for the day. In contrast, it is mandatory for JC students to comply with strict school regulations. They must don the school uniform and maintain well kempt appearance. Dress codes have implications on students, seen in terms of their learning attitudes and motivation to study. Also, JC students will develop a stronger sense of belonging towards their schools. The sense of belonging is amplified by the sorting of JC students into classes that promote frequent student interaction.

Verdict?

In conclusion, choosing between the 2 educational paths boils down to individual preferences. If one has already decided on a specific career path, the Polytechnic route will be more suitable. Those, who are uncertain are encouraged to undertake the Junior College route, given the greater long-term prospects for the latter choice.