Sunday, February 24, 2019

Why i told my friend to get his son into JC instead of Poly.

The story began months ago after my friend wrote to me privately with a query. His son managed to score 12 points for his O level exams and he wanted to ask me where should his son go to next.

This a JC or Poly question.

Upon knowing his son's grade, I congratulated him, and told him that his son has done well. He should definitely give JC a try, and the actual identity of the JC did not matter. In spite of the fact that my friend is,  himself, a living and breathing example of a successful polytechnic graduate, I told him to stop considering a polytechnic education for his son for now. 

He agreed with me my analysis.

The press has been too positive about a polytechnic education lately. You can read about it here. 

But behind these positive press reports are numbers that are hard to put a positive spin to.

The first issue I have is that the permanent employment rate of polytechnic graduates is only 59%  six months after graduation. This is contrary to the way a polytechnic education was pitched to folks in  my generation. A polytechnic education was supposed to  prepare graduates to contribute to the needs of the economy the moment they graduate. If only 6 out of 10 of us have permanent jobs after graduation, i think something is very wrong about that promise.

Which bring us to the second issue, that 26.4% of poly grads can only get part-time employment after graduation. That is fine until you realise that average salary of a polytechnic graduate at $2,350 are derived only from those who graduated with permanent jobs.

If part-time employment is not taken into consideration when calculating polytechnic salaries, we cannot even conclude that salaries of polytechnic graduates have been going up with the rate of inflation in 2018! We may be getting back to that "lost decade"  when poly grads had no increases in salary at all when Singapore was injecting foreign talent into our economy.

Polytechnic diploma holders are the middle class and back bone of the Singapore economy. A vibrant middle class supports owners of capital by providing a pool of skilled labour and consume products produced by the companies that we own. Absent any evidence of extraordinary academic talent, most reasonable parents should expect that their kids should be able to get a polytechnic diploma and lead a middle income average lifestyle in Singapore.

As of now, entering a polytechnic does not automatically lead to a university degree - only about 20% of polytechnic graduates qualify for further education in a local university.

The statistics now paint a chilling picture for parents who desire a better life for their children.

Can our middle income group live the Singapore Dream when only 6/10 can land a permanent job ?

This is something we really need to think about. As of now, I do not have any suggestions on how policy makers can proceed except to continue to draw lessons from the mighty German economy and their apprenticeship system.


  1. Maybe 40% of poly grads are pursuing Uni ... either in govt-supported, or overseas, or private full-time, or private part-time.

    Unlike 20 years ago, many poly students these days want to jump straight into Uni education if their circumstances permit it.

  2. Yes, maybe. I clarification would really help.

    Poly grads are like canaries in a gold mine. If the middle class is threatened by economic forces, we will see this in poly grad metrics.

  3. Hi Chris,

    This is hard and true fact in which a polytechnic graduate will find it hard to excel in the work. They are given a handicap in the start of the employment. The success will be harder to attain for the polytechnic graduates in the current context. It is not possible to achieve success. However, it will be exceptionally difficult to do so. I will say that one possible area is to go into the banking sector in which the reward will come for those who put in the sheer determination and hard effort. To each of their own.


  4. i have come to learn of a group of people who qualify for both jc and poly but end up choosing the poly route cos they feel that if they are unable to progress to uni after jc, they would end up with nothing. Whereas a diploma, no matter how bad it is, is still comparatively better than "nothing". This is akin to hedging their downside rather than going for broke with the jc route.

    I do know someone who did just that for the same reasons and went on to qualify for NUS after poly. He basically took an extra 2 years more than his peers who chose the jc route but seem to have no qualms about it.

  5. Hi Chris,

    Though only about 20% of the polytechnic graduates make it to local university, with 12 points at O Level, your friend's son should be good enough to be among the 20% if he maintains the same standard in his polytechnic studies. I am speaking from personal experience as I obtained around the same result as him in O Level and chose the polytechnic route. I made it to NTU without any working experience after NS.

    Do remember that in a poly, your peers are mostly those from neighbourhood schools Express stream and some from Normal (Academic), Normal (Technical) and ITE graduates. It is not as competitive as in JC. As long as you are consistent in your efforts, you should be able to do reasonably well.

  6. Hi Chris,

    To make the decision largely on statistics would only make sense if that friend have many children having to choose between JC and poly :)

    After all, it is a deeply personal choice. And it depends heavily on the strength and weakness of individual and the course they want to study/learn.

    Two anecdotes (though they might be a bit extreme)

    1) I personally had the option to either go YJC or JJC (They were both ranked close to the bottom back then) vs going to Poly. I even did my first 3 months in YJC.

    It was clear to me during that 3 months that I will not survive in the JC environment. I am bad with human languages like English and Chinese (as you can tell from this writeup) I also hated the non-stop mugging and endless homework given (solving theoretical problems again and again).

    After poly, I entered NUS and actually could complete it in 3 years instead of 4 as poly students have many modules exempted. There were several poly friends who did so. Hence the extra year in Poly can be "earned" back.

    Although I spent 4 years because I took it easy as I loved Uni life. I loved Uni life so much that I went on to do a PhD - whether that is worthwhile is for discussion another day :)

    All in all, I never regretted attending Poly. It was so much fun and more importantly allowed me to basically ignore English & Chinese and just focus on Computers.

    2) Although the rate of going to Uni from JC is 80-90%, my aunt unfortunately was the 10-20% that did not made it and had to go Poly after 2 years of JC to learn skills/knowledge that are employable.

    I believe we have all heard similar stories like that.

    All in all, I believe that whether JC or Poly is better depends heavily on the individual's strength, weakness and desire.


  7. Thank you so much for your input.

    The response has been so good, I will dedicate another article to this topic by the end of this week !

  8. My son scored 8 points for his O level last year and decided to do molecular biotechnology in a polytechnic because he is certain of his interest. I went through the A level route but nevertheless gave him my blessing as I felt it is important to pursue a course that he is genuinely passionate about.

  9. WeiBeng,

    Did your son get a seat in University ? He sounds like someone who can enter Medical school in NUS !