I’m really trying NOT to take the mickey out of PM’s NDR, but his section on ITE and Poly grads being successful really threw me off.

First, of course were the promises that the public sector will “place more emphasis on skills and ability” according to the ST report on Page 2. Some talk about merging some non-graduate and graduate tracks and changing the way people get promoted. Sounds like a plan (and perhaps merely a plan), as I have often complained on the hypocrisy of “meritocracy” in the civil service, particularly the different officer schemes in the SAF, and in disciplines where no specialised “degree level” qualification is needed.

A friend of mine, Jin Yao, has already pointed out on his blog how this whole “sell” just comes off as a bunch of hogwash. At this point in our meritocratic decline, I’ll only believe it when I see it. Until then, I take it as simply a political promise. I’m skeptical in this area.

Then he mentioned two things: “hard work” and “upgrading”… and that got me confused. Yes, hard work and continuous self-improvement are critical (and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt by interpreting it as “self-improvement” rather than “upgrade to a degree”), but the real root of excellence for people in Poly and ITE is 1) respect for their craft and 2) passion for their craft. That then results in people spending hours honing their skills and, to quote an aspiring Pokémon Master, “be the very best. Like no one ever was.”

The new role model for ITE and Poly.

Of course, there’s also the typical lack of any sort of admission of poor governance. PM happily skips to “the solution” without addressing the causes of the problem – his own Government’s long-held policies and values.

How come all three of PM’s examples of non-graduates being given opportunities are from Keppel? Okay, they come from two different Keppel subsidiaries, but this really points to the fact that Keppel is doing well in this area or that the shipbuilding industry really values ability rather than paper qualifications. Seems like you have to join Keppel and do shipbuilding if you want to get anywhere without a degree.

Labour MP Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC) recently shared with a small group of influencers that he too was not comfortable with ITEs and Polys constantly boasting about what proportion of their students eventually went on to Poly/Uni, as evidenced by the many posters and advertising campaigns boasting “X% of our students made it to Poly” or “Y out of Z made it to the local university”.

This nonsense has to stop, and the public service is clearly a large part of the problem. Promises are easy to make, but if the public service hasn’t already solved this travesty by now, I don’t fancy their odds in the next couple of years.

Daniel Yap

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