Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at the Temasek Polytechnic Graduation Ceremony, Temasek Convention Centre

Published Date: 03 May 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Lee Kok Choy, Chairman of Temasek Polytechnic Board

Members of the Board

Mr Peter Lam, Principal of Temasek Polytechnic,

Colleagues, Parents, Graduands,

Ladies & Gentlemen

1. To all our graduands of 2019 today – it has been three years of hard work, but it is also a period of laughter, fun and friendship. Congratulations on completing an important milestone of your life and your education journey. Let’s take a moment too, to thank the teachers and staff of the polytechnic, and also your parents and loved ones for their care and support.

2. I must say that today’s graduands in particular will be entering a sector (Early Childhood Education) which will have great impact on children’s lives. This is a sector that the Government places great emphasis on. I wish you all a bright career ahead.

3. Every year, I will make a point to attend at least a Polytechnic graduation, to give an update of the polytechnic education landscape. It is after all a critical pillar of our higher education system, admitting over half of each cohort.

Key Changes to Polytechnic Education

4. My first update to you is that over the years, the graduate outcomes of polytechnic students have been good. About half will go on to further studies, and the other half goes into the workforce. Their employment outcomes have been good – about 90% of those in the labour force will secure jobs six months after graduation, and starting pay has been rising over the years. The polytechnics are also conducting tracer surveys to better understand the employment outcomes of polytechnic graduates five years after graduation, and we intend to make the results public from the next survey.

5. Notwithstanding the positive outcomes, we must keep improving the system. SkillsFuture provides the impetus for continuous improvement. Because today, the most important driver for success in life is skills – the ability to accomplish tasks and get things done. To master a skill, we have to keep learning, formally by attending courses, or informally by learning on the job or from mentors. In line with this philosophy of lifelong learning, let me update you on three changes to polytechnic education that are underway.

6. The first key change is in admissions, where we have started to recognise students’ aptitudes and interests, beyond academic results, in a significant and meaningful way.

  • You are familiar with the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE). This year, admissions to polytechnics via EAE saw a record number of applicants at almost 14,000 – 10% more than last year. We expect the final enrolment through EAE to stabilise at around 20% of the total polytechnic intake in future.

  • The EAE will also be extended this year to working adults for the first time. In processing the applications, polytechnics will evaluate their current and relevant work experience, putting less emphasis on academic results attained at a young age. We hope that this will open a new door for working adults seeking to upgrade.

  • We have also expanded the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP) to benefit the top 15% of the Secondary 4N(A) cohort, from 10% previously. This year, about 1,600 students applied for the PFP, up from about 1,250 students last year. The outcomes of students admitted via PFP continue to be encouraging – at graduation, over 35% of the first PFP cohort in 2017 scored a GPA of 3.5 and above, compared to 25% for the entire graduating cohort.

  • Earlier this year, I also announced a significant change to the secondary education system, where we will replace streaming with Full Subject-Based Banding (SBB) by 2024. Our post-secondary posting system for ITE, polytechnics and junior colleges, comprises various different admissions exercises – EAE, DSA, PFP, DPP, JAE, JPAE, DAE. The exercise which a student is eligible for is very much determined by his secondary school stream and performance within the stream. With this major change in secondary school system, where different streams are integrated, we will review the post-secondary posting system, with a view to streamlining admissions, and injecting more flexibility, recognizing all-rounders as well as students with specific talents and strengths.

7. The second key change is in curriculum. We are focusing a lot more on helping students realise their interest and strengths, and also making polytechnic education more experiential.

  • This is why the polytechnics are offering more Common Entry Programmes, or CEPs, where students get to sample foundational modules common to a particular cluster of disciplines and explore their interests, before deciding on a specialisation. Polytechnics started the CEP in Engineering in 2010. It currently attracts about 22% of engineering first-choice applicants for the Joint Admissions Exercise, up from 15% two years ago. The polytechnics have also introduced two more CEPs – one in Business, and another in Information and Digital Technologies. Student interest has been encouraging, attracting about a third of the first-choice applicants in those clusters.

  • We are also streamlining and merging courses in our polytechnics, and the number of unique courses has dropped from 230 to 200 courses over the past year. This will reduce premature over-specialisation by students. By reducing the number of courses, we trade depth for more breadth and versatility. That way, we give students a broader exposure to more foundational skillsets, before they specialise. After all, you have your whole life to learn, and you can always specialise after you graduate and work a few years, by taking an Advanced or Specialised Diploma, or a professional qualification. By then, you are also more likely to make a better informed choice.

  • We are also incorporating more experiential learning in polytechnics. Currently, all polytechnic students undergo an internship, and an increasing number are going for overseas immersion and attachments. Last month, I announced the launch of the Future City Programme, where students from various disciplines get to work together on projects with potential for real-life applications.

8. 8. The third key change probably concerns our graduands the most, which is to broaden your upgrading options beyond graduation, whether it is joining the workforce or furthering your studies. Over the years, we have developed a few distinctive pathways for polytechnic graduates:

  • One pathway is university education, in traditional autonomous universities such as NUS and NTU. The two universities are increasingly appreciative of the strengths of polytechnic students in their admission policies. From 2020, both NUS and NTU will rely on polytechnic graduates’ GPA scores for admissions, and will no longer hardcode O-level grades as part of the polytechnic University Admissions Score. This provides a better and more current reflection of the knowledge and skills that polytechnic graduates have gained. Further, NUS has requested that each polytechnic nominate 40 students who have displayed a strong entrepreneurial inclination during their studies, for admission to NUS.

  • Another pathway is to the newer AUs, namely, the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). They are taking in significant numbers of polytechnic graduates, as this is a key objective for setting them up. Across all our AUs, more than one in three undergraduate students are polytechnic graduates.

  • Then there is the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme (ELP). It is a work-learn programme that gives fresh polytechnic graduates a head start in careers related to their discipline of study, and supports their transition into their chosen industry. Since 2015, over 100 ELPs have been introduced in 35 sectors, including emerging areas such as Advanced Manufacturing, Entrepreneurship, and Digital Marketing. As of end-2018, over 3,500 participants have enrolled into the programmes, and we intend to expand the scheme.

  • A final, very important and in fact dominant pathway, is actually to work. When working adults of my age look back, we conclude that the most important skills we use today are learnt on the job rather than in school. That is a fact, but I recognise that even if our polytechnic students understand that, the preference is still to go for further studies rather than work, because many employers still hire based on academic qualifications. This is however changing, as more employers are now looking beyond academic grades, but also other yardsticks of merit, such as character, interest and skills. At the same time, universities are also moving towards assessing applications more holistically, including looking at a student’s work and life experiences. So my prediction is that in time, more polytechnic graduates will conclude that it is more useful and practical to work a few years first, before pursuing further studies. This is especially for fields such as nursing, or Early Childhood Education, where the industry values work experience, and a university education is far more useful after accumulating some years at the workplace.

The Future of Certifications

9. The final topic I want to touch on today is an interesting development in our higher education system. It has to do with your certificate you are about to receive. Receiving our graduation certificate is a proud moment, and many of us will frame it up and display it on our walls. It is a fitting recognition of many years of hard work and developing skills. We are not about to change that, but we can improve your certification, not by creating a more beautiful design, but by adding a digital version of it.

10. From this year, apart from receiving a physical diploma, all graduands will also receive a digital diploma. This is an initiative called Project OpenCerts, a pioneering project by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), GovTech, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and MOE.

11. Each digital diploma has a unique cryptographic proof embedded in it. You can regard it as the digital fingerprint, or unique authenticity, of the diploma. We need a place to record all the digital fingerprints of all the diplomas. That is important, because each time someone presents a digital diploma, we will check the fingerprint of the diploma against the record, for authenticity.

12. We will not record all the fingerprints at one place, because that would be risky. Instead, we will store them across thousands of servers, across the world. We do this by using blockchain technology, and this makes them permanent and immutable.

13. Blockchain has many possibilities, but few real-world applications thus far. Some say that it is almost a solution looking for a problem. With OpenCerts, we are harnessing the power of blockchain in a practical way. It allows for any education institute to issue OpenCerts, and for anyone to quickly check the validity of a digital certificate. This will in time make job application and hiring easier and smoother for both the applicant and the employer.

14. In your case, when you apply for a job, you need not go through the hassle of requesting for certified true copies of your diploma from your polytechnic. You can send potential employers your digital diploma together with the job application. Employers can immediately validate the digital diplomas received as genuine, because that is what blockchain offers – secure and immutable records.

15. With OpenCerts, any unsavoury characters submitting forged certificates or degrees from Singapore institutions to try and get a job, will be quickly found out and denied. It is a good solution to a real-world problem.

16. We are not just making digital diplomas available for polytechnic students. We are also rolling this out to ITE, AUs, the Arts Institutions, SkillsFuture Singapore, the National Institute of Early Childhood Development and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board. Starting from this year, all graduates with ‘N’, ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels, Nitec, Higher Nitec, Polytechnic diplomas, degrees from our six Autonomous Universities, NIEC and Singapore Workforce Qualifications, will receive digital versions of their certifications concurrent with their hardcopy ones.

17. Individuals will be able to access their digital certificates through the MySkillsFuture internet portal and mobile app. Your personal MySkillsFuture account will include a Skills Passport which contains your digital certificates. This is a tangible example of the benefits of our Smart Nation journey.


18. Let me conclude. I am sure most of you will leave the polytechnic with mixed feelings – happy that you completed this course, but sad that you are leaving your friends, your teachers and the beautiful campus. I hope you find the journey ahead exciting, be it work, further studies or National Service.

19. Whatever the future holds, remember that in every path – even if it is not your chosen one – there is something to learn, and don’t let it go to waste. Learning is not merely confined to what you like to do, but recognising what it takes to do your job better, and harnessing the courage to venture into something unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and master it. That is learning and really the underlying attitude when we say we need to learn how to learn. Success goes to those who keep on learning, keep on improving.

20. I wish you all the best. Thank you.

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