NorthLight School took in its first batch of students in January 2007. It is a first of its kind in Singapore and a unique social innovation in the global education landscape. Before its establishment, there was no model or school elsewhere in the world with a customised programme that catered to academically weak students at post-primary level with a mass school population of more than 800.
NorthLight offers a career-oriented, values-focused education through a curriculum and teaching approach radically different from mainstream schools. The three pillars of its curriculum are Character Education, Foundation Education and Vocational, as opposed to the subject-based approach in mainstream schools. Content, pedagogy and assessment are aligned to the students’ learning style (majority being kinesthetic learners) –70% experiential learning, 30% theory.
Many students struggled with low self-esteem due to repeated failures in the past. Hence improving students’ confidence and developing their socio-emotional competencies is one of NorthLight’s priorities. The students also undergo 700 hours of training in a specialised skill, and another 250 hours of industrial attachment. At the end of the three-year programme, students are awarded with an ITE Skills Certificate (ISC) in Mechanical services, Electrical services, Food preparation Services or Retail Operations.
So far, NorthLight’s achievements have surpassed the expectations. The school used a number of innovative pedagogies to teach Mathematics and Languages. The percentage of students who enjoyed Mathematics had doubled from 40% to 80%. In addition more than 70% of the pioneer batch of graduands passed all their modules (71% in 2009, 72.9% in 2010, 75.7% in 2011) and more than 40% progressed to some form of full-time education and traineeship as compared to the previous rate of only 20% from the former VTCs. Despite the low entry level of literacy, 90% and 50% of the graduating students achieved a level 4, for their workplace literacy on listening and reading respectively, a level that is adequate for the workplace.
The efficacy of NorthLight’s programme is also evident through its relatively low attrition rate of 10% in 2011, as compared to a high of 60% for VTCs previously.
These results surpassed the School’s short-term target of 20%, a figure already regarded as ambitious due to the students’ academic and socio-economic status.
Through unique pedagogy and teachers’ commitment, many students came to enjoy school. As one parent observed, “My son’s enthusiasm in preparing for school every day now shows how teachers have made him enjoy school and allowed him to discover his potential.”
More than 65% of the graduands are equipped with a higher qualification than at least one of their parents. Through NorthLight’s success, more students are now staying in the education system long enough to not only be equipped with the skills and qualifications, but also improve their employability and enhance social mobility. From being unmotivated and feeling hopeless, these students now see new possibilities and get a second chance at achieving their aspirations.