Integrated Programme vs O levels: 6 things parents must know

February 20, 2017
  • 1. IP is meant for top students
    1 / 6 1. IP is meant for top students

    What is the difference between the Integrated Programme vs O levels?

    The Integrated Programme (IP) is a six-year programme targeted at the top 10 per cent of PSLE students. They bypass the O levels and take the A levels or International Baccalaureate, followed by university.

    The idea behind it was to provide a seamless secondary and junior college education, giving students the space to develop intellectual curiosity and other talents.

    Related: Lower PSLE cut off points for top secondary schools in 2017

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  • 2. It became very popular
    2 / 6 2. It became very popular

    The IP started in 2004 at eight schools, including Raffles Institution (RI), Hwa Chong Institution and Raffles Girls’ SchoolIt became so popular and prestigious that 18 schools now offer the IP programme.

    Related: Direct school admission: Does it benefit rich kids more?

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  • 3. But some can't cope
    3 / 6 3. But some can't cope

    The IP programme made headlines in January 2016 when a viral post revealed shocking results for Raffles Institution: only one out of the O-level class of 10 students qualified for junior college.

    The rest had aggregate scores of over 20. According to the post, RI had started an O level class in 2014 for those who wouldn’t be able to cope with the IP.

    After the RI shock, The Straits Times reported that out of 4,000 primary school leavers entering the IP in 2016, around 6 per cent, or 240, can be expected to drop out before they complete it. 

    They will switch instead to the O-level track in the IP school, or move to other junior colleges, polytechnics and private institutions.

    This was after the Ministry of Education revealed that around 6 per cent of students leave the IP before graduation – a figure it based on the cohort of around 3,000 students who entered IP schools in 2008 and who would have graduated in 2013.

    MOE also revealed that of those who complete the six years leading to the A levels or the International Baccalaureate exams, less than 5 per cent fail to qualify for local universities.

    It declined to give more detailed figures, said ST, which added: putting together the two figures, between 200 and 300 youngsters of the 2008 batch failed to thrive on the programme.

    Related: 61 Singapore schools will get new principals in 2017

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  • 4. It is not for everyone
    4 / 6 4. It is not for everyone

    In the ST article, MOE explained that the IP may not be the best route for everyone. “There could be a small number who may not find this to be the most suited to their strengths and learning styles,” it said.

    Schools that started the programme later also offer the four-year O-level track and let students transfer from one to the other.

    Recognising that not all thrive in the IP, top schools such as RI, Hwa Chong Institution and Nanyang Girls’ High started running O-level classes for students who fail to cope. 

    Those lagging are identified at the end of Secondary 2 and advised to go into the O-level class. A few who do well enough are admitted back into the JC level in the same school. If not, they leave for polytechnics or other JCs.

    Related: Direct School Admission: Mums speak out about flaws

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  • 5. What ex-students say
    5 / 6 5. What ex-students say

    Most of the 20 students interviewed by ST who had left brand-name schools offering the IP, or stayed on but fared poorly, said that they were unsure of the merits of the IP.

    These students were not just those who were taken in because of their sporting or co- curricular achievements under the Direct School Admission scheme. Several had PSLE scores well above 250.

    A 22-year-old, who dropped out of the IP and now studies at the private Singapore Institute of Management, says: “I didn’t do so well in the A levels, but I am still glad I was in the IP. I felt that I gained in other ways. I am doing well in my degree course, partly because the IP taught me research and analytical skills.”

    But like several others interviewed, he realised too late that he needed a more structured programme. He says: “I realise now that the IP suits students who have a lot of discipline. Given all that freedom, I sort of drifted.”

    Two others felt the IP was never for them. Says an 18-year-old who is now in a polytechnic and among the top students in her course: “I was pushed into it because it was a prestigious school.

    “I realised it early on, but everyone, including my parents, thought I was crazy for wanting to drop out, so I stayed and wasted quite a few years.”

    Related: Lower PSLE cut off points for top secondary schools in 2017

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  • 6. Call for more transparency
    6 / 6 6. Call for more transparency

    In a hard-hitting opinion pieceST’s senior education correspondent Sandra Davie called for more transparency about the IP programme.

    Schools should be upfront about how their students performed at both the A and O level exams. “Why has the O-level track become the track of shame at top IP schools?” she writes.

    “12 years after the programme began, policymakers and educators face the prospect of the ‘through-train’ IP having become a runaway train.

    “This is because of the effects it is having on students and parents’ behaviour and the question of whether it still fulfils the original objective – to allow students the space to develop intellectual curiosity and joy for learning.”

    Her interviews with IP students, even those with high PSLE scores of over 250, showed that some were not suited to the IP style of learning, which is less structured than the O levels and has no major exam for six years.

    Related: Here’s how Singapore education system has changed from the 1960s to now

    (File photos/SPH) 

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