Polytechnics Will Soon Allow Students to Spread Out Studies Beyond the Typical 3 Years


Yesterday (7 Jan), the Second Minister of the Ministry of Education (MOE), Dr Maliki Osman, announced that Polytechnics will be venturing into having more flexible curriculums for select Polytechnic students, who would benefit from having the extra time to pursue entrepreneurship opportunities, sports commitments, or simply need the additional time to complete their curriculum due to person or medical reasons.

Before some boys’ eyes start lighting up at the prospect of “another way to escape enlistment for even longer suah”, don’t start celebrating too early, because the extension comes with a fine print of details.

The Impetus Behind the Change

Since January of last year, Second Minister Dr Maliki has been leading a Review on Opportunities and Pathways in Applied Education to examine how the current tertiary education system can better support the diverse needs and ambitions of students and graduates from Polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Dr Maliki is of the opinion that the following changes are pertinent to ensure that graduates are equipped with the necessary and relevant skills to remain resilient and thrive in the future, more dynamic and ever-changing economy.

Hence, according to the MOE website, the Review covers these three main areas:

  1.     Bolstering students’ career readiness and resilience for the future economy.
  2.     Recognising diversity and proving more flexibility and opportunities for all
  3.     Building strong and more integrated support systems for all systems.

I have no idea why, but I suddenly had flashbacks to my Social Studies lessons in Secondary School. Something about the acronym SARA or something…

But I digress.

Polytechnics’ Responses to the Changes

Overall, there has been positive reception to Dr Maliki’s suggestions.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Principal and Chief Executive Lim Kok Kiang responded by saying that students who desire to follow their passions might have the additional option of taking a gap semester.

Temasek Polytechnic Principal and Chief Executive Peter Lam suggested that “flexible curriculums” can also include allowing students to take fewer modules per semester instead of the typical required five or six.

The students can either request for such an alternative track, or the school will be responsible for identifying and bringing up this option to those whom they feel will benefit more from this arrangement.


Echoing similar sentiments, though in a slightly different vein, Singapore Polytechnic’s Principal and Chief Executive Soh Wai Wah is keener on helping students cultivate the seeds of their business aspirations, without having to be under the pressure of completing their compulsory curriculum in three years.

In between, it is even possible for them to have access to the counsel of their teachers and professors, which will further aid them in their entrepreneurship.

Likewise, Republic Polytechnic’s Principal and Chief Executive Yow Li Pheow brings another idea to the grand table, stating that the polytechnic will be kickstarting a customised study programme in 2022 where students with differing learning abilities can choose a more flexible load during their semesters.

Nanyang Polytechnic’s Principal and Chief Executive Jeanne Liew noted that under these recommendations, the students at polytechnics can actively work with the school to plan their academic load and curriculum, which is not a dissimilar arrangement from some universities.

Okay, so TL;DR, the principals of the polytechnics are all in agreement that the proposed alternate track will mainly revolve around lightening the load spreading out the students’ curriculum over a longer period of time.

This will ensure that students can have the luxury of pursuing their passions and cope with their studies at the same time, and for students with special needs, this will lift their burdens without deprecating their actual abilities since they are no longer in a high-pressure three-year environment.

Generally speaking, it sounds like a good change in the right direction.

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Deeper Glance into Dr Maliki’s Review

Besides the aforementioned points, Dr Maliki stated that polytechnics in particular, can and will create more opportunities for industry exposure by adding opportunities like job shadowing or brief periods at various workplaces on top of compulsory third-year internships.

It will allow students to get a more advanced curriculum of work skills, thus finding and honing the expertise they will require in life as they work in an increasingly complex world.  

He even intends on increasing the participation rates of students in overseas exposure programmes to 70%, in the Asian region in particular, because it is another type of experimental learning which might prove useful when they enter the workforce.


Considering the close ties that Singapore has with its neighbouring countries, and the ASEAN alliance, his optimism is not unfounded.

He hopes that these enriching and new experiences will heighten the students’ general global perspective, critical thinking and curiosity, plus the ability and want to seek out more knowledge on their own initiative.

All in all, Dr Maliki hopes that this will be a step to “move away from the one-size-fits-all system” that Singapore presently has.

Seriously, I can’t see why anyone would argue against these positive changes; less stress is always a good thing, I mean, have you seen the mental health of the Singaporean students? 

Surely, it’s like being able to take a breather with a more flexible curriculum.

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