Friday, January 15, 2021

Is it wrong to bribe my kids with $100,000 to avoid a Polytechnic education and go JC ?

Polytechnic education has achieved leaps and bounds ever since Ong Ye Kung has been the Education Minister. The latest numbers show that up to 30% of the Poly in-take go on to study at a local university. Making matters more interesting, the makeup of Poly students has improved over the years with a significant increase of students who would have made it to a JC program with their O level grades.

This presents a sea-change in the calculus of choosing the right academic track and I'm starting to imagine my own children coming up to me in their teens to convince me to support their polytechnic ambitions in the future. One glaring reason to skip a JC and go Poly is CL2, which is as fun as having a root canal for potato-eating Singaporeans like me. Also, my daughter can also doll-up in a Polytechnic setting instead of going to a lecture in school uniform.

For all these reasons, you might expect a parent like me to simply just support my child's wishes, but I am thinking of doing the opposite. I'm thinking that if my kids want to study in a Polytechnic, I may opt to bribe them to take the JC track instead. This is not a small bribe. I fully expect this to be around $100,000 in tomorrow's dollars to balance the hardship between a JC and the Polytechnic program for a discerning teenager.

I detail my reasons below :

a) Polytechnic education is now very relevant with the existing industry

As the government ramps up Poly education, they will try to align closely with industry so that students will be able to hit the ground running. From my point of view, this is totally meaningless because industries do not last very long in the future economy. Imagine a bomb hitting the Singaporean economy and all jobs are lost, having bankable skills with a diploma would be meaningless because we will all be on Universal Basic Income. 

But a JC student using his writing skills learnt in GP class can whine much louder to the government. He can put his suffering in a different framework and become more philosophical over the dystopia he is in. 

While a Polytechnic prepares a student for industry, a JC prepares a student for a society where there is no industry.

b) Polytechnic education teaches practical skills to students to solve real-world problems

Once upon a time, I served an IT vendor in support of a financial exchange. The trading system went down and my highly skilled diploma-trained engineers recommended we restart the trading service. The unskilled but terribly overqualified manager in charge of us from the customer-end (who enjoyed reminding me of his scholar status) insisted we troubleshoot the issue even though we do not believe the root cause to be on the infrastructure end.  We troubleshot for hours and exacerbated the outage.

In the end, my diploma-trained engineers were proven right, bouncing the application service solved the issue and trading resumed. A few days later this asshole manager told his CIO that even though we were technically right, we were wrong because we failed to convince him to bounce the application.

Practical skills are worthless in the real world. The real skill is in negating practical skills with trash talk in the real world. 

This guy is an ex-scholar. I'm pretty sure he has an A-level cert.

I rest my case.

c) Polytechnic lecturers empathise with students and treat them like human beings

One of my favourite Maths teachers in NJC set such a tough Further Maths exam that moderation was set at 20% and over 50 students tried to drop the subject after failing it. We were so traumatised, the Maths department even conducted an intervention to stop the massive exodus of students from taking the subject. I felt that teacher meant well, because until that test we took, we thought we were Math geniuses. 

Most JC students today will say that nothing in University matches the stress level of the A level exam. I continue to have nightmares of taking exams during my JC days but never in Law or Engineering school. But there is an upside, whenever I look at some AI algorithm and think about tensors and matrix manipulation, I think about A level Further Maths in NJC and all the resistance to pick up these new coding skills disappears. 

In all my personal engagements with polytechnic lecturers on the other hand, I find them actually are quite encouraging. One professor in SP even told me that he loves making them feel good about themselves.  

I'm sorry, empathy, love and words of encouragement, is actually not appropriate for my children. 

This is not the Five Love Languages. 

If my kids go Poly, they will never understand what it is like to be forced to drop a subject they love because it may drag down the JC's overall results. They may never experience the differential treatment of ordinary students against students who study H3 or S-level papers or the jadedness of a JC tutor. 

In the end, it is the JC that truly reflects the capitalistic meritocracy of Singapore society and I prefer that they get a taste of it before getting out.

My final point is - as attractive as they are today, polytechnic graduates are in a rough patch. Recent graduates are not seeing salary increases and a larger proportion are joining the gig economy. But the government propaganda machines, orchestrated probably by a JC student, still has FB ads that look like this :

" I did not regret skipping JC to study XXX diploma, at XXX Polytechnic. "

These idiot scholars behind these silly campaigns don't get it.  

REGRET is absolutely what needs to be experienced within the education system. 


The A level track is all about these things.

So I am prepared to bribe my kids with $100,000 to learn all of that. 

I reserve my right to change my mind. If you have a better argument or reasoning for your own kids, do share with me, but we can agree to disagree!


  1. The only reason to go poly is when you can't hack academic rigour. If the ultimate endgame is local Uni, then there's no reason not to go straight to JC.

    Going to poly is like having a safety belt for the mediocre -- if you can't move on into Uni, at least you have a tertiary cert that can get you a job with basic pay (or a uniform group with good pay).

    If you go JC but can't get into any uni, then it's shit creek without a paddle ... and you'd have to waste a ton of good money for foreign Uni that's likely to be a mediocre or shitty one.

    Btw a govt scholarship is like OCS in NS. Getting in & doing well requires a fair bit of hard work & strategic & tactical moves. But once you've passed, you can pretty much have free rein & be a real asshole & tekan lesser beings & send them to DB or sabotage their jobs or careers.

  2. The sad thing is that if a person can preserve his/her humanity and EQ on the way to the top, they might even be able to join the Cabinet.

    But this scholar is a special piece of work. If he has real substance, he does not have to bully my men. My conversations with him gives me the impression that he's insecure.

    He's still working for the exchange today !

  3. Hi Christopher, I have nothing against nudging or influencing your children's behaviour especially if you believe that it's for the best. Neither am I against doing the A levels or getting a diploma from the polytechnic. However, I thought that as someone who is intimately aware of both routes of education (full disclosure: I teach at a polytechnic), I should point out some things that you may not have considered or where I find the reasoning in your post to be flawed.

    1. The points that you've raised are fairly common points that us lecturers at the polytechnic have heard year after year during our course counselling sessions at Open House or during the Joint Admissions Exercise.

      First, let me say that I don't believe that either option of doing your A levels or getting a diploma is inherently superior to one another. It really all depends on what your end goal is and which route is more suitable for your child.

    2. Some kids are better suited to mug for a major exam (i.e. the A levels) that comes at the end of two years while others are much better at handling the back-to-back deadlines of written reports, projects and presentations which are hallmarks of most courses at a polytechnic.

      Also, the end goal matters. If the end goal of your kid is to study law or medicine at a local university, the odds are much better if they came from a JC. However, even then, they would need to be the cream of the crop among their JC mates in order to qualify so there is some self-selection bias there in terms of the true odds.

    3. However, if your kid is aiming for a course at the business schools of NUS, NTU, and SMU, there have been more places open to polytechnic graduates compared to when I was in school. A fair number of my own students go on to the local universities and I would say that the polytechnic route actually prepares them better for university because the assessment format is more similar compared to the A levels.

      Next, to your point about going to JC because GP skills are important (point a), I think you overstate the importance of such skills and it's a misnomer to suggest that getting a diploma doesn't impart such skills. What is taught at the polytechnic is fairly fundamental and many of my students have gone on to industries or jobs that their education didn't prepare them for. In short, I don't think an education at the JC or Poly results in making a person more adaptable.

    4. As to your second point (point b), I think you may be confusing the environment of a time past with the environment of the future. Furthermore, you ignore the fact that the A-level holder manager in your story was a ex-scholar (who presumably also went to university). That would possibly have given him a leg up in terms of attaining a managerial role. In all probability, that would have been down to his university education plus ex-scholar credentials. In short, his A-levels had nothing to do with it.

      As to your final point (point c), I think, once again, like many other parents, you conflate the issue of education for knowledge and the issue of character building. Are they related? Sure. But does character building rely solely on the educational environment? I think not.

    5. Furthermore, it doesn't stand to mean that doing the A levels builds a "stronger" person. My own story is a case in point. I went through the A levels route. Throughout my JC education, I didn't do well and yes, I was pretty much left on to my own devices. Fortunately, for me, I scrapped through and thanks to the protection accorded to the A level cohort at the time, I managed to get a place in the local university in a course that I could do well in. What I'm saying is that the description of your own A level experience doesn't even come close to my own. And once again, from my own observation, competition at the Polytechnic can be pretty intense too.

      Now, your post could possibly be a troll post but nonetheless, I hope my comments help you see that there is nothing intrinsically superior or inferior between the A levels and the polytechnic route. It's all about which is more suitable for your kids.

    6. As for character building and motivation, please don't expect the education system to do that for you. To be honest, whether it's at the JC or whether it's at the Poly, you have both motivated kids and you also have kids who are content to coast. I've seen kids thrive due to competition and I've also seen kids wilt because of it.

      Maybe instead of thinking about which system is better, perhaps you should know your kids better first.

    7. Sorry for spamming but it was a really long reply.

    8. Thank you very much for sharing, Ryan. I will be directing more readers to read your rebuttal. I think its adds depth to our discussion and you raised very pertinent points !

  4. Hi all,

    I think that JC or polytechnic is entirely to the individuals. I believe that Chris is more inclined for his kids to go for JC as per his perspective. There is nothing wrong with such approach. As per my perspective, it is up to the individuals to decide the path. No right or wrong approach. To each of one own.


  5. Personally, I think bribing with $100,000 for anything is just wrong... haha...
    It's the kids life, it's the kids choice. Sometimes, you have to let them fall down to learn. What we can do as parents is to support them with our knowledge and experiences. They make the decision and take ownership of the consequences be it good or bad.