MINISTER of State for Education Lawrence Wong yesterday said his comment that not all Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates can go on to polytechnics was taken out of context.
By Amelia Tan
His words, which were said at a forum on Tuesday, sparked controversy online after they were reported by the Today freesheet. But Mr Wong said yesterday that they did not reflect his main point, which would have been understood by the 100 students who attended the event.
The minister, who heads a panel looking at ways to give Singaporeans more opportunities to pursue a degree, said in a Facebook post that all was being done to increase the capacity in polytechnics. He wrote: 'But even with the expansion of places, I was upfront in highlighting to the students that not all of them will be able to get a place in the polytechnic. There is a strong industry demand for ITE graduates, and the job market needs people with their technical skills.'
The discussion between Mr Wong and the students was reported by the media on Wednesday, including The Straits Times. However, members of the public took issue with the minister's quotes published in Today. These included: 'If everyone can move up, we will not have enough ITE graduates out there in the workforce.'
The Today article provoked a flurry of comments online. Mr Andre Goh wrote on Today's website that he did not see why students who worked hard in the ITE were being discriminated against.
Former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong wrote in a blog: 'I would hazard that most Singaporeans would also be disappointed with these comments... we want all Singaporeans to have equal opportunities, and to support those Singaporeans in going as far as they can.'
Mr Wong told The Straits Times: 'Based on my conversations with the ITE students after the dialogue, I know that they had hoisted in the key messages conveyed during the session, which is that there will be even more pathways for them to fulfil their aspirations.'
He added: 'Nevertheless, I have seen the online comments and I understand the reactions. Reflecting on what happened, I recognise that I could have put the points across in a more sensitive manner.'
He said he hoped Singaporeans understood the basis of the education system, adding: 'It is a system of merit where places in the polytechnics are assigned to all good performers who meet the criteria, whether secondary-school leavers or ITE upgraders.'
Based on this system, about 22 per cent of ITE graduates obtain places in polytechnics directly after their Higher Nitec. 'We expect this proportion to go up, to 25 per cent in 2015,' he added.
ITE student Angela Goh, 18, who attended the forum, said: 'I understood where Mr Wong was coming from. There are limited places at the polys, so not all ITE students will be able to get in.'