• Illuminate Singapore

"Why did you transfer out of the Integrated Programme?"

Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.



Twelve-year olds who enter secondary schools that offer the Integrated Programme (IP) might do so for a few reasons. Skipping O Levels is no doubt one big motivator; another could be the different experiences a prospective student might obtain from being in such a programme. One thing is for sure - getting into IP is not easy, you need stellar grades. 

Enrolling in an IP school was what Sarah did.

In the very beginning, she enjoyed her schooling. She made close friends, whom she still contacts today, and played basketball after class. However, not all was smooth-sailing, as she shares, “After a remark made by a fellow schoolmate regarding my physique with relation to the sport I played ... I started to be very conscious of my actions and behaviour, and even started to develop stage fright when I had to present myself in front of crowds.” Nevertheless, she had her close friends’ support.

Things worsened when it came to her third year when their paths diverged. “I chose a stream which [was] more specialised in the arts,” she writes. “All my close friends were no longer able to be with me all the time as they were in the other stream.” Most of her new classmates already had a history together as well, so she couldn’t fit in. At this point, she had begun to feel lonely.


Sarah’s consciousness about her English accent didn’t help either. “The pile of assignments which required presentations in front of a crowd added on to my anxiety, since I had a lot of difficulties doing presentations,” she admits. “A lot of the students spoke in a more Westernised accent. Being in class felt suffocating every single day, and it came to an extent that I was crying in the bus on the way back home on a daily basis. I reached a breaking point when I no longer wanted to go to school at all and that was when I finally told my mum how I felt.”


“Being in class felt suffocating every single day, and it came to an extent that I was crying in the bus on the way back home on a daily basis. I reached a breaking point when I no longer wanted to go to school at all and that was when I finally told my mum how I felt.”

Sarah thought her mother would try to convince her to work harder to do better in school and that she would be able to get over these feelings and difficulties soon even when she felt like changing schools, especially since IP was considered prestigious. To her surprise, her mother was incredibly supportive and understood the depth of her feelings so she considered other options for Sarah for the sake of her well-being. She went to great lengths to help Sarah find a new school which Sarah was ever so grateful for. The school she was transferred to, though was what many called a ‘neighbourhood school’ but she felt that it had a far more suitable and positive learning environment for her compared to her previous experience in the IP school after going through the rest of her secondary school days there. “The school that I transferred to helped me develop what I needed to know and understand in the four years’ curriculum within two years since I could not adapt to the IP school’s learning environment and had difficulties learning there.”

At that time, Sarah recalled that many people could not empathise with her decision to transfer to a ‘neighbourhood school’ and that many gave her 'advice' that she should have endured through the four years in the IP school as it was more prestigious and that graduating from there may be better for her future. People even commented that it was a 'waste of her good results' to transfer out of the IP school. These comments and 'advice' made her feel bad about herself. It started to convince her that she was not strong enough to endure through it like her peers in the school who achieved just as stellar results as she did in PSLE and made her feel like she was a very incompetent student .

​However, that mindset changed when she met the principal of the school she was transferring to. He understood the difference in learning environments of an IP school and a ‘neighbourhood school’ and understood her decision to transfer. Till this date, she will always recall what the principal said to her when he took her around the school to familiarise her with the school environment. “One statement that he said has moved me till this very day, “As long as you are willing, the doors of this school will always be opened to you.” It really touched me. To someone who was already feeling very down about oneself and prepared at that point of time to give up on her education, his words was very welcoming and really motivated me to give myself another chance.” she said as she recalls her meeting with the principal.


“One statement that he said has moved me till this very day, “As long as you are willing, the doors of this school will always be opened to you.” It really touched me.”

During Sarah’s time in her new school, she met great friends and the teachers who lent her incredible help which allowed her grow and attain substantial grades in her O-levels. It was definitely not easy for her in the beginning. There was a lot to catch up. Since she was from an IP school, her classmates expected her to attain straight A’s easily. They did not really know about her experiences in the IP school and the circumstances she was in which led to those high expectations they had of her even though she was still lacking in terms of her understanding of the syllabus content. Despite the pressure, she tried her best to study hard and overtime her peers soon threw out the expectations and stereotypes that had about her transferring from an IP school and treated her like she had been in their school from the beginning by lending her the support she needed.  


“I was discouraged when the results of my first major assessment came out as I had results ranging from B to F’s but I did not want to let the principal and the teachers who cared for me down. I continued to work hard and my studies eventually picked up under my friends’ and teachers’ help.”

With all that she has shared, Sarah mentions that she still has as many pleasant memories from her previous school as the unpleasant ones, if not more. She is still close buddies with the friends that she made there. She also gives credit to the school for providing all students with a great amount of opportunities for growth and development but it was just not the suitable environment for her personally.

Lastly, she also shares, “I feel strongly against the notion that some schools are better than others. All schools are definitely not the same and have different things to offer but that does not mean some schools are better than others because what is truly important is the environment that the student himself or herself is able to enjoy being in and not reputation. For me, this is a lesson I learnt personally after experiencing the different types of schools. IP schools have less guided learning and have their different learning environment in terms of the type of interactive and explorative learning they expose their students to, but neighbourhood schools also have committed and well-trained teachers who give support to their students in their learning and offer a more guided approach and can make a difference in the lives of students. Thus, I urge students to think less about reputation and more about the learning styles they have and talk to more people from different types of schools to make a decision. ”


“I feel strongly against the notion that some schools are better than others. All schools are definitely not the same and have different things to offer but that does not mean some schools are better than others because what is truly important is the environment that the student himself or herself is able to enjoy being in and not reputation.”

Written by Koay Tze Min and Lim Kang Yee

© 2020 ILLUMINATE SINGAPORE

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