**Images courtesy of PJC and Ngee Ann Poly**
This question has been on the minds of students, especially those who received their O level results and are eligible for both options. Even students who enrolled in to A level course recently may wander if they should switch to polytechnic to join the October semester.
As a former JC Math teacher and current polytechnic adjunct lecturer, I believe I am in a good position to provide some of my personal opinions on the differences between the systems to let you decide which course suits you or your child best.
1. Nature of course
A level course focuses more on general theory of each subjects, with little practical applications for the Sciences through lab sessions. Polytechnic focuses more on practical applications using industrial technology and work skills one would need in the practical world. They do teach theories but on more focused topics that are required by each diploma.
E.g. In terms of Mathematics: A level students learn a variety of topics t, such as sketching of curves involving transformation, to the loci of complex numbers. Polytechnic students will not study much of curve sketching nor will they study loci of complex numbers. Instead engineering students will focus more on calculus which is beyond JC H2 Math syllabus, such as second order differential equation (H3 Math) or using Laplace Transform (Uni year 1).
2. Specialised vs General certification
From point 1, due to the nature of the syllabus, a polytechnic diploma is a more specialised certification compared to A levels. That is why students with diploma certificates are actually “work ready”, especially when internship is a must for most, if not all students. A level students will be trained to have a wealth of knowledge but probably not in how to apply them in real life industries or work.
This also leads to the point that a diploma holder may have less options in the choice of university courses as they have sufficient content for their diploma course but may not have sufficient knowledge for another course. A level students, having vast knowledge across many subjects may have more options to choose their course. Hence I believe the “myth” that A level students has a higher chance of making it to university is true to a certain extent.
3. Quality of certificate
A level certificate is issued by Cambridge, one of the top authority in the education field. While polytechnic diplomas are awarded by individual polytechnic. In terms of grading, A student scoring an ‘A’ may be the real deal as this ‘A’ is awarded based on tens of thousands of students taking the same exam and graded together. For polytechnics, the grades are awarded most likely based on the cohort in the same course only, also the grades are controlled by the polytechnic (where moderation is common), hence a student scoring an ‘A’ may not be as good as a student scoring ‘A’ through A level system.
This is partly why more vacancies may be allocated to A level students (at least for the Big 3) compared to polytechnic students having equivalent grades, and also why university requires polytechnic students to be scoring a relatively high GPA before they can qualify for the university course.
4. Exam system
A level system works by a student study for 2 or 3 years and sit for a 1 time exam and the grades depend on that 1 sitting. This meant that a student has alot of content to prepare but also more time for the exam. It is a “do or die” system since each student has only 1 chance.
Polytechnic system works in the same way as university whereby each student takes approximately 5 modules and they will sit for an exam after 4 months. Every exam will be counted towards their GPA. This meant that each student may have less content to prepare for each exam (compared to A level student) but they have less time to prepare also. Students striving to do well must be consistent in their 3 year course compared to the 1 chance 1 sitting system.
JC / MI is a uniformed institution and hence the level of discipline there will be much higher than in polytechnics. E.g. students must wear their uniform neatly, not allowed to wear make up, dye hair etc. Compared to polytechnic students who basically can wear whatever they like and put as much makeup as they want. This has a big impact in the study environment and the upbringing of the student.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that polytechnic students are worse than A level students, just that I have seen a fair share of polytechnic students simply not bothered to come to school, despite their parents paying thousands a year. In JC / MI, the teachers will play a bigger role of monitoring the students’ behaviour and enforcement of discipline and upbringing.
Some people have the “myth” that polytechnic is a good place to “escape” and slack compared to the A level system. I think which system suits a student depends on whether 1) Is the student a “theory” or “hands on” type. 2) Does the student clearly knows what he wants to study or work in the future. 3) Can the student cope with “volume based” examination (A level) compared to modular system? 4) Is the student mature, self – disciplined and independent to ensure that he / she study well and not be strayed away?
There is no clear cut answer but hopefully after my sharing you or your child can make a better decision.