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ITE experience

5 Things I Learnt From Studying At ITE, Including Stereotypes I Wish People Would Let Go Off

Studying at ITE in Singapore

In Singapore, the traditional academic route after secondary school entails going to either a polytechnic or a junior college, followed by university. Tell anyone you’re studying at ITE (Institute of Technological Education) and you’d likely get side-eyed and silently judged. 

We’ve all heard its reputation for having lazy students, ah lians and ah bengs – basically, students with no prospects.I won’t lie – when I found out I was going to ITE myself, I was dejected at first.

Trust me when I say I’ve experienced all the stereotypes. Students being unmotivated and lazy? No future? No way. As someone who went through 2 years of an ITE education, I’m here to tell you why these don’t hold quite true.

Your future isn’t doomed if you go to ITE

Group project at ITE
That’s me on the right, with the braces.
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine 

Growing up as the kid who read 3 novels a day, there were high expectations set on me. No surprise there as it’s believed those who are well-read are “destined for greatness”

So how did I end up at ITE, you might be wondering? After my O-Level examinations, my L1R5 of 19 would’ve been enough to get me into Yishun Innova JC. However, thanks to my astounding E grade for maths, I was sent to ITE.  

Whenever I mentioned that I was an ITE student, I was often met with looks of pity or backhanded comments from distant relatives or strangers like, “Oh you in ITE ah? Nevermind lah it’s okay,” or “You study hard, then can faster get out,” as if to validate my academic “mistake”.

Class photo
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine 

The constant implication that I’d wasted my potential and put a “stain” on my resume by going to ITE did eventually take its toll on me. 

Eventually, though, I learnt that it was the furthest thing from the truth. Many of the friends I made in ITE are bright individuals who have gone on to pursue their passions since graduation, like furthering their education and working in reputable companies in Singapore.

Fun fact: Notable ITE alumni include the CEO of Sheng Siong supermarket, Mr Lim Hock Chee, who used the practical skills he learnt to create the iconic budget-friendly supermarket we Singaporeans know and love.

Small class ≠ closer to classmates 

Bonding with classmates
My bond with my ITE classmates remains the most significant throughout my academic journey.
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine 

Having eventually gone on to study at poly – where my class had just 20 people compared to 30 at ITE – I realised that having fewer people in class didn’t mean it was easier to make friends. 

Perhaps it was because my ITE classmates were around the same age as I was. We had common interests which made it easier to form connections, whereas my classmates from poly comprised folks from all walks of life, making it a little more challenging to bond right off the bat.

The nature of ITE assignments also turned out to be great bonding opportunities between my classmates and I. Being in an event management course, most of our major assignments consisted of class-wide community event organisation. That meant we ended up spending lots of time with each other, allowing us to go from classmates to friends pretty seamlessly.

Studying at ITE - group project
Our very first community event in ITE, at Kim Seng CC.
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine 

Another myth I can debunk here is that I didn’t observe any stereotypical “laziness.” We were as kiasu as any other Singaporean gets, and put in our best effort to not only achieve good grades, but also execute quality events. Our shared ambition brought us closer together. ITE students not being driven? We don’t know what you’re talking about.

Informal lecturers make classes more engaging 

Everyone knows that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to learning or teaching. I found that in ITE – where the majority of the students were less inclined towards textbooks and exams – lessons were tailored and carried out in a way that engaged us via both theoretical and practical elements, like role-playing what ideal customer service should be like.  

Studying at ITE - class photo with lecturer
Our lecturer literally blended in with us – can you tell who’s our lecturer?
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine 

My ITE lecturers made learning fun and digestible by speaking to us casually, which made us feel like we were learning from a mentor or more experienced friend. It was easier for us to communicate and absorb the material that we were learning, rather than staring at a bunch of slides for 2 hours straight.

It was a good stepping stone for my next academic endeavour as I could easily retain what I learnt in ITE. Because of that, I was able to relax a little during my first year at poly, as many of the subjects were repeated. 

You’ll learn to value proper work-life balance 

Work-life balance is something that’s often vied for in Singapore, considering how our fast-paced environment can often lead to burnout. It was during my time in ITE that I got to experience and value a proper work-life balance.

Studying at ITE - mindmapping
 mind map of topics covered in an exam, which I had time to do after school.
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine  

All our project-based assignments were planned out and executed during school hours within our groups. While I still had to work on things after school, we never had an overwhelming workload that kept us up till late at night. 

I didn’t have to worry about struggling to finish both my assignments and any homework as there was rarely any homework. This gave me more time to revise and prepare for projects and exams at my own pace rather than mugging all night.

That said, I didn’t have this privilege when I entered poly where I lived the typical sleepless student life while bogged down with assignments and studying. So, I consider myself lucky to have experienced both sides of the coin. 

There’s more to campus life beyond the classroom

ITE CC Campus
ITE CC Campus.
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine 

A school is just as captivating as its campus. While smaller than the poly I attended, ITE College Central made up for it with bright colours and the incorporation of nature like its massive bushes and green walls throughout its campus. There were also great hangout spots like a billiards room, a KBBQ restaurant, and a multitude of eateries.

Studying at ITE - class photo
We also had a “Youth Clash” event, AKA sports day, which had classes going against each other in games like baton pass and mascot creation. We won.
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine 

Lunchtime was when the school’s DJs would play the latest hits throughout campus, which further added to the atmosphere. What made it even better was their Throwback Thursday playlist – my favourite memory was hearing almost everyone sing out the phone number to Kiss Me Thru The Phone by Soulja Boy.

Proud to be an ITE student


While not everyone that’s gone to ITE may have had the same experience as me, my hope is that people will understand that the stigma surrounding ITE and its students isn’t based. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is this: Not caring what others think is the best way to succeed.

We’re not all bo pian individuals in a dingy school with no future ahead. My time at ITE provided me with the hands-on skills to grow as an individual as well as slay in the workforce.

Internship experience

My passion in writing spurred me to take on an internship with TheSmartLocal’s editorial team, where I was embraced for who I was regardless of my educational background.
Image credit: Gabriella Nadine

For others who may be struggling, take it from me to not worry about anyone’s perception of you being an ITE student – just live in the moment and figure out where your passions lie to stay motivated. After all, people will continue to think and say whatever they want, but it’s up to us to guarantee our own success and happiness.

More perspectives to read:

Cover image adapted from: Gabriella Nadine