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CTE in Singapore: Profile in International Best Practice (Part 1)

Today I'm proud to announce that we will be partnering with the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium's (NASDCTEc) "Learning that Works" blog to bring you a monthly series of posts on international best practice in CTE (or VET - Vocational Education and Training—as it is called in many countries). To begin, we present Part 1 of my interview with Mr. TAN Seng Hua, Dean, ITE Academy in Singapore and one of the architects of Singapore's CTE/VET system. Widely regarded as one of the best in the world, Singapore has spent considerable time and resources to ensure their system is flexible, responds to the needs of industry, and provides students with the skills they need to be successful in a global workforce. Be sure to come back for Part 2 on Friday when Mr. Tan will share what he sees as common challenges facing CTE around the world and his advice for overcoming them.

Q: What is the progression of VET/CTE in Singapore? 

A: Structured as post-secondary education options, CTE in Singapore collectively enrolls some 65% of each cohort of students (aged 17 and above), who have completed at least 10 years of academic education, including four years at the secondary school level. Please see the following chart depicting the education system in Singapore. (Editors Note: Or view an interactive chart.)


Based on their career interests and national exam results, students with keen interest in technical and vocational education may apply to either a Polytechnic college for a "para-professional/technical specialist" level of training or the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) for "technical skills" training. Those who do well in these programs will be able to progress further within the Singapore education system. For instance, students can progress from ITE colleges to a Polytechnic and eventually to a university.

To prepare these students for CTE options, the curriculum of the secondary schools in Singapore places great focus on English language, mathematics, and sciences. Students are also given opportunities to participate in career guidance activities such as the Experience ITE Programme during their secondary school education. Similarly, secondary school educators are engaged in learning journeys to the CTE colleges to better prepare them for a career and education counseling role in the secondary schools.

Q: What sectors/fields of study does VET encompass? Which are most popular with students?

A: ITE offers a wide range of courses including manufacturing, engineering, info-comm technology, business and services, design and media, applied science, health sciences, and hospitality-related training. These courses are regularly reviewed and new courses are introduced based on the demand for these skills projected by the various sectors of the economy and government economic agencies. As of January 2015, there are more than 100 different courses offered by ITE. Based on recent trends, those related to services and certain niche courses such as aerospace technology appear to be more popular among applicants of full-time ITE courses. For adult learners, their choice of training is largely steered by their job requirements and career aspirations.

Q: How is CTE/VET funded in Singapore?

A: Singapore views CTE as an investment by the government to enhance the competitiveness of the nation. The cost of ITE education is almost fully funded by the government, up to 97%. Students only need to pay a nominal portion of the fees to show their commitment to the training. Needy students from low-income families will be further supported by private funds donated by foundations, employers, the community, and individual donors.

For working adults attending continuing education and training at ITE, their course fees are also heavily subsidized by the government, in addition to sponsorships given by their employers. The main objective is to encourage more working adults to develop a culture of life-long learning and regularly upgrade and update their skills and knowledge to remain relevant in this fast changing world.

Q: What are the major goals of VET/CTE in Singapore?

A: The main goal of CTE in Singapore is to maintain its relevance to the workforce needs of the economy. This is a great challenge as there may be a mismatch between the interests and aspiration of youth and the manpower demand of the employers. Working closely with employers to enhance the career development opportunities in their respective technical sectors, to provide good career counseling, and to make CTE fun and attractive for youth, are key strategies to ensure the success of CTE.

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Seng Hua TAN has spent more than four decades planning and transforming the Vocational and Technical Education (VTE) in Singapore.  In his previous appointment as Deputy CEO (Academic) of ITE, Mr. Tan led a major project to revamp all training courses of ITE from single occupation oriented to Career-Cluster Based Curriculum, incorporating work-based and personal life skills learning to prepare ITE students for the fast changing work environment.  

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