O-Level or Integrated Programme (IP): Which Is More Suitable For Your Child?
Are you a Singaporean parent trying to decide whether your child should attend an O-Level or Integrated Programme (IP) secondary school? With both options offering their unique benefits and challenges, it can be a difficult decision to make. Before making your choice, it is important to consider your child’s learning ability, stress management skills, and interests in specific subjects. In this article, we will provide you with an in-depth overview of both systems and help you make an informed decision. Additionally, we will introduce you to WR!TER@WORK, a premium enrichment school in Singapore that can help your child excel in English and writing.
Being a Singaporean parent, we all have the fear of “losing out”. Some of us could have pondered over the following question: “If my child is qualified for the Integrated Programme, should I enroll him/her into the IP program so that they can skip the O-Levels for a more straightforward route toward the GCE A-Level examination (A-Levels) or should I let them take the usual Ordinary Level (‘O’ level) route?”
Well, there is certainly no easy answer. Most importantly, parents should first consider the key aspects of their child’s well-being, including their learning ability and stress management capability, before choosing the most suitable route for them – whether to have their child join an O Level Secondary School or IP Secondary Schools in Singapore.
First introduced in 1971, The Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O-Level) is an annual national placement examination offered jointly by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE).
GCE O-Level is taken by both mainstream-school students and private secondary-school students in Singapore annually:
GCE O-Level Examination is a course of study that takes 4 or 5 years to complete (the Express Stream and the Normal Academic Stream respectively). The O-Level examination adopted a standardized O Level syllabus that is closely aligned to the intended O Level curriculum carefully curated by the MOE in Singapore. It prepares and develops students’ proficiency in one or two languages, mathematics, science and humanities. The O Level examination helps to gauge a student’s learning ability, understanding of key concepts as well as their academic strengths or weaknesses in certain subject areas.
Students are required to pass a minimum of 5 subjects, to “pass” GCE O-Level and attain an O Level Cert. Express students usually take 7 subjects, with some of the more academically talented students juggling up to 9 subjects.
GCE O-Level subjects include: English, Mother Tongue, Higher Mother Tongue (HMT), Elementary Mathematics (E Maths), Additional Mathematics (A Maths), Pure Biology, Pure Chemistry, Pure Physics, Combined Science (Phy/Chem/Bio), Pure Geography, Pure History, Combined Humanities (SS/Geog/Hist), Literature, Principle of Accounts, Design and Technology, and Art.
With the O Level syllabus and O Level curriculum content being designed by MOE locally, students would be able to gain a good foundation and basic knowledge in various subjects tailored to our local education landscape, required to enable them to progress to any of the pathways at junior colleges and polytechnics, and advance to more specialized courses of study at tertiary levels.
In 2024, the O levels and the N levels will be phased out for a new local examination.
First introduced in 2004, the Integrated Programme is offered by selected schools in Singapore. The intended purpose of IP is to reduce the focus on exams for high school students, and offer them more curriculum time to explore academics and other pursuits in a more flexible and challenging way.
Unlike the usual GCE O Level Curriculum which is a 4-year course leading to obtainment of a GCE O Level Cert, the Integrated Programme is a 6-year IP program education track for students in Singapore to do without the O Levels, and sit for the A Levels at the end of the 6-year curriculum directly.
Students on this scheme bypass the O Level Examinations for a fast-track route toward the attainment of a GCE A-Level examination (A-Levels) qualification. In short, the main characteristic of IP lies in doing away with the O Levels. So, secondary and JC is taken together as a 6-year programme, although most students still need to change school as they go from high school to JC (year 4 to year 5).
While the vast majority of students still sit the O Levels examinations, only the top 10% of PSLE students are offered places in the Integrated Programme. These students do not sit the O Levels, and proceed straight to junior college to complete their A Level or IB exams. Hence, the IP is seen as an elite and prestigious programme for the brightest and most studious ones.
The rigour and curriculum specifics of each IP school are vastly different. This is because every institution has their prerogative to design the IP curriculum and executing the IP lessons based on their choice of focus. However, here are some observations and examples to show how the IP is different from the O Level track for English Language (or Language Arts).
For most subjects, IP schools often introduce selective advanced topics to students even before they reach the JC level. They choose to expose them to advance level questions and topics to give students a head start, and give them a glimpse of the academic challenges that they could face in the future. IP teachers believe that this gives students a strong foundation when they enter JC as compared to O Level students.
For English, IP schools tend to follow the O level syllabus at year 1 and 2. In fact, IP and IB schools use the O-Level English exam syllabus to train students at Year 1-3 to help them get ready to tackle the rigour of studying the General Paper at Year 5 and 6. At Year 3 and 4, the IP schools’ curriculum would usually include higher-level skills components like literary analysis, expository and argumentative writing.
For a start, there is less focus on grammar (e.g. no editing component in the exams) as teachers believe that IP students already possess a good command of the language. Therefore, IP schools often test reading comprehension that has more higher-order thinking questions, requiring inference and deduction skills rather than factual recall questions. For Year 1 – 4, IP students generally still have to study and excel in most of the O-Level English exam components like – essay writing, reading comprehension, summary writing and oral presentation.
Besides that, IP schools often incorporate literature into the main English syllabus, and this means that students have to study the set text and hone their skills in literary analysis (prose and poems included). IP schools also train students’ verbal abilities through assignments, or projects like in-class presentations. Some schools also expect students to prove their communication abilities through class participation.
In other words, students in IP schools will not only have to study English Language but also varied components of Literature. To excel in IP English (or Language Arts) at Year 1-4, it is important for students to have a good grasp of the different components of the O-Level English exam papers. This will also help them be ready to deal with the challenges of studying this compulsory subject – General Paper at A-Levels.
IP Secondary schools in Singapore are secondary schools that the MOE has assigned to provide the six-year IP program. The secondary schools collaborate with a junior college (JC) to jointly offer the IP program. There are currently 17 IP Secondary schools in Singapore.
IP Schools List
|Secondary School||2021 PSLE Cut-Off Point|
|Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)||7||8; 13 if affiliated|
|Catholic High School||8(M)||9(M); 12 if affiliated|
|Cedar Girls’ Secondary School||8||9|
|CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls’ School||7(P)||9(M); 14 if affiliated|
|Dunman High School||8(D)||—|
|Hwa Chong Institution||7(M)||—|
|Methodist Girls’ School||7||8; 17 if affiliated|
|Nanyang Girls’ High School||7(D); 8(M) if affiliated||—|
|National Junior College (Secondary)||7||—|
|National University of Singapore (NUS) High School of Math and Science||—||—|
|Raffles Girls’ School||6||—|
|River Valley High School||9(M)||—|
|Singapore Chinese Girls’ School||8||8; 17 if affiliated|
|St. Joseph’s Institution||8||10; 12 if affiliated|
|Temasek Junior College (Secondary)||8||—|
|Temasek Junior College (Secondary)||8||9|
Is the secondary school IP Program good? Well, there are both pros and cons. Under the IP program, students have a near-guaranteed placement into a junior college in Singapore. However, a 6-years period is definitely not a short learning journey. Some students may end up doing badly if they have lost the momentum to study or they are unable to get used to the IP system. Students who end up deciding to go to poly or overseas for pre-uni studies may need to take additional exams or the O levels, taking up more time and resources.
Juggling between many subjects at a time can be really taxing and stressful. Every child has a different stress management capability and learning pace. Hence, choosing the right secondary school with a suitable course timeline for your child is a vital step. Instead of deciding on behalf of their children, parents are encouraged to talk to their children and learn about their interests in subject combinations.
WR!TERS@WORK ‘O’ Level English Enrichment Programme is your best companion for your secondary school academic pursuit because we ensure that our graduating students are ready to ace the English Language examination. It is a race against time to prepare for the ‘O’ Levels, hence our programme focuses on teaching and reinforcing our students’ essay writing skills, comprehension answer precision, summary writing and oral examination techniques. All W@W secondary teachers spare no effort in coaching our students how to excel in English and writing.
Here is why you should invest in your child’s English enrichment in Secondary school.
English is your L1 – It’s Your Child’s First Language.
Whether your child is proceeding to JC or to pursue a diploma in Poly, English is a compulsory subject. It is a core subject in your child’s secondary school academic career, and your child cannot afford to fail English. In fact, your child needs to do well in English exams to advance in their next academic pursuit. Basically, your child needs English, like how you need air.
Good command of English offers Huge Advantage in All Other Subjects in Secondary School
This has already been true in your child’s primary school years and PSLE. In secondary school, this is still true but on a whole new level. We’re talking about writing argumentative essays and defending your stand, consuming a wide-range of reading materials from history to modern technology and social issues, or undertaking an oral examination and DSA interviews. All these follow rubrics that test your child’s entire skill set in the English language. And putting in a bit more effort to improve your child’s English proficiency will help them with everything.
Mastery of The English Language Increases Your Chances of Getting Your Dream Internship, and Expanding Your Social Circle
You are ultimately preparing yourself for what comes after “school”. The English language is used in business, science and technology, and even in entertainment. Just look at the K-pop stars that have to learn how to speak English when they attend international music awards. Mastery of this language makes you more confident to communicate both verbally and on paper – and that is a huge advantage that you can give to yourself for the new, and bigger world that awaits you.
Therefore, it is worth considering investing in secondary tuition and enrichment in Singapore to give your child the best possible start.
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