Photo credit: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Polytechnic students struggle with home-based learning as hands-on projects go online

The practical aspects of polytechnic are hard to adapt online.

Esther Lam
Esther Lam

Published: 2 June 2020, 8:31 PM

Since early April, schools in Singapore have been conducting home-based learning due to the COVID-19 situation. While secondary school and Junior College (JC) students have started to return to school, most polytechnic classes are still home-based.

The initial joy of being able to study from home is starting to fade for polytechnic students. Online school comes with its own set of challenges, and some feel they would rather be going to school.

We spoke to some youths in polytechnic about the challenges they face with home-based learning.

Missing out on hands-on experience 

One of the main challenges polytechnic students face during this HBL is having to miss out on hands-on experiences.

This is especially the case for courses heavily dependent on practicals or physical interactions, such as mass communication.


Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s (NP) mass communication students from the previous semester managed to film in the studio for their final project, an infotainment show for a studio production module. Photo credit: Lam


Third year mass communication student Chloe Ong was disappointed to have to work on her Capstone Project from home. The Capstone Project is a course module for third year students in NP to apply their skills and knowledge from previous semesters by planning an integrated brand communications campaign for a selected client.

Chloe, 19, said: “My friends and I were looking forward to working together to produce a documentary for my documentary production module.

“Usually, this means an entire crew will be going on set and hiring a cast. This time, our final project will be an individual video submission instead.”

Beyond missing out on opportunities to learn basic skills, students also missed out on industry-based skills as many of them had their school-based internships or attachments cut short or cancelled.

Nursing student Huang Soh Hui had her hospital internship cut short by two weeks. The 20-year-old said: “I was in the middle of my graduating internship. I personally felt that I wasn’t ready yet. The extra two weeks were really important.

“I didn’t get to experience the night shift either because my scheduled night duty was a week after the cut-off.”

Difficulty working with strangers for online project work


Thanks to communication platforms like Zoom, Discord and Skype, polytechnic students are still able to communicate with each other. But each comes with its own set of challenges. Photo credit: Headway on Unsplash


Unlike secondary schools or JCs where you see the same classmates for months and years, polytechnic students change classes as often as twice a year. This makes online group work especially difficult.

Imagine not only having to work with people you’ve never met, but having your grades depend on them too!

“It can get a bit tough and awkward. We’ve never really spoken except for a few short exchanges, and not every group member replies on time or actively contributes. But we still get the job done,” said 17-year-old Nurul Hazira, a first year media post production student.


For most polytechnic course modules, group projects take up the bulk of students’ grades, alongside final exams, with a weightage of 20 to 40 per cent. Photo credit: Chloe Ong


Without physical meetings, some students may find it difficult to ask questions or request for consultations to clear their doubts.

“It’s hard to check and ensure that everybody is on the same page as we aren’t [physically] together. This makes us heavily reliant on being vocal and needing to check up on each other so that everybody understands what they are doing,” said Chloe Tan, 18, a second year mass communication student.

Student committees managing the CCAs more than the teachers-in-charge


NP’s School of Film and Media Studies (FMS) Society announcing their 2019/20 student committee handover on their official Instagram account on May 8. Photo credit: THEFMSSOCIETY’s Instagram


Unlike other institutions where co-curricular activities (CCA) are managed heavily by the respective teachers-in-charge, student committees in polytechnic CCAs handle most of, if not all, the internal affairs of the club.

Chloe Tan is the president of FMS Society, a CCA that organises events for FMS students such as camps.

They are especially busy this season as they have to plan events according to the COVID-19 situation, which makes it difficult for them to have a confirmed event calendar for the year.

“What if our platform stops working during the online events? How can we engage the students if our events are online? We need to think of situations that we didn’t give much thought to when we were able to meet and have events physically,” explained the FMS Society president.

She shared that, for now, they’re interacting with FMS students via social media posts while the committee discusses how they can move forward with their online events.

Ultimately, despite the comfort and flexibility that studying from home might bring, many polytechnic students still prefer studying in school.

18-year-old Amritha Jaya Anand, a second year early childhood development and education student, said: “I look forward to being around my friends again, working with them, and to be in an environment that motivates me to study better.”

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