It all happens in the blink of an eye. One minute your child is refusing to let go of your hand on the first day of primary school, and the next minute you’re holding back tears as they celebrate their graduation. It’s easy to get lost in the nostalgia of it all – where have the years gone? But while this momentous milestone spells all things celebratory, you also can’t ignore the important questions and decisions that need to be asked and made at this point. Your child’s transition to secondary education is a big step not only for them, but for you too.
Being a Singaporean parent, we all have that intrinsic “fear of losing out” trait deeply rooted in us. And one of the biggest catalysts for that feeling is the following education question: “If my child is qualified for the Integrated Programme, should I enrol him/her into it so that they can fast-track ahead straight to the Advanced Level (‘A’ level) or should I endorse the Ordinary Level (‘O’ level) route?”
Well, there is certainly no easy answer – as far as your child’s future is concerned. The best thing to do is to learn about what the two trails entail so that you can make a more informed decision.
Introduced in 2004 by the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Integrated Programme offers a six-year course that combines secondary and junior college education to provide a seamless and broader learning experience. Aimed at high-performing children in the top 10 per cent of the PSLE cohort, the scheme allows them to bypass the GCE O-levels examination and instead, charter a direct path towards completing their A-levels or International Baccalaureate (IB), which they can then follow by attending university.
The ‘O’ Level Track
The ‘O’ Level track is the standard secondary course. It offers a four- to five-year programme of moderately paced structured learning, designed with the final examinations in mind. Students in Singapore will receive clear guidance along their education journey. Then, they will be required to take the O-level examinations before they can prepare for the A-level examinations in Junior College. They can also choose to go to a Polytechnic after the completion of their ‘O’ Level programme.
Accelerating Personal and Academic Growth | Benefits of the IP Programme
1.More time and flexibility for enrichment activities
By taking the O-levels out of the equation, the Integrated Programme in Singapore gives your child the chance to learn a vast array of subjects. From elective studies in psychology and problem solving to leadership and public speaking, these courses ensure students are not limited to a strict, examination-based curriculum. This allows them to develop skills that are equally important beyond the classroom walls.
2. Opportunity to immerse in both academic and non-academic domains
The freedom of learning that is built into the Integrated Programme means that students have more opportunities to engage in both academic and non-academic domains. The pace of study lends itself well to students who are interested in getting involved in extracurricular activities at school, like event planning and community responsibility projects. Involvement in these types of activities will teach them important life skills, such as teamwork, time management and duty.
3. Explore high-level topics
On an academic level, the Integrated Programme is specially designed to allow advanced students to learn and explore topics at their own pace. By combining Secondary and Junior College together, the course can introduce A-level subjects as early as Secondary 3 – as long as individuals continue to meet progress requirements. This way of learning encourages intellectual curiosity and develops higher-order thinking skills.
4. Less structured
One of the unique aspects of the Integrated Programme is that it is far less structured than the ‘O’ Level programme. This means that your child will be able to take charge of their own educational experience and keep track of their own learning. However, it’s important to remember that this is also a heavy responsibility. Student’s need to have the self-discipline to lead their studies to be successful.
Not Made for Everyone
While the elite programme sounds promising, we must remember that it is not designed with all students in mind. A finding by The Straits Times in 2016 suggests that approximately 6 per cent – 240 students per intake – are expected to drop out of the Integrated Programme before they are able to finish the full six-year course.
The reality is that the Integrated Programme is not suited to all learning styles. On top of that, the added pressure to live up to the expectations of an ‘elite’ programme can eventually cause them to fail instead of flourish.
Children Should Not Be Branded As “Less Intelligent” for Choosing the ‘O’ Level Route
In today’s status-based society it’s easy to look at the label of ‘standard’ and read it as ‘mediocre’, but that’s simply untrue. Standard means normal, not deficient. Singaporean children that go through the ‘O’ Level programme aren’t necessarily less intelligent than students in the Integrated Programme, and they certainly shouldn’t be made to feel academically inferior.
The difference lies more in the way the child can learn. Some students need set structures and guidance to do well in their early years, and the ‘O’ Level provides that. It allows children to digest, internalise and integrate everything they’ve learnt at a steady pace.
In the end, neither programme is inherently the right or wrong choice. Each programme has its own merits. Rather than getting too preoccupied with arbitrary labels, parents should discuss the two options with their children and allow them to make an informed choice based on the type of learning they wish to pursue and they are best at.