When Muhammad Mikhail received his O-level results, he knew his dream of entering Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), was over. He failed Mathematics.

His principal then convinced him to enter Millennia Institute (MI), where he could retake O-levels in his first year of study. He was hesitant initially. “I heard that it’s like the ITE [Institute of Technical Education] for JCs [Junior Colleges].

According to a Ministry of Education survey in 2017, the enrolment numbers for Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3 MI students were 535, 327 and 271 respectively.

MI is currently the only Centralized Institute (CI) in Singapore. It’s formed in 2004 following the merger of Outram Institute and Jurong Institute.

MI offers Art, Science and Commerce streams for students to complete A-levels over 3 years. JC students, on the other hand, usually complete A-levels in 2 years.

Mikhail has since left MI to join NP’s Early Childhood Education program when he was able to improve his Mathematics grade. However, his year in MI was not wasted.

“It was life changing and eye-opening,” he said. He participated in performances for Malay Dance and had a group of friends he could call “family”.

He added that MI should not be seen as an inferior JC. “To me, it’s mentality. Whether you want to take the opportunity given to you… to prove to people that MI is not the ITE of JCs.”

Unlike Mikhail, Nursyaza Nadya chose to go to MI as she felt the extra year for A-Level preparation would benefit her.

But her mother was doubtful. “My mother read negative reviews online, about how MI students aren’t motivated and the chances of them going to a university are very low compared to those in JC.”

Nadya managed to convince her mother after explaining that the longer route would allow her “more time to go through [the topics] in-depth”.

But she cautioned those who assume that MI is an easier path than JC to think otherwise as MI teachers “won’t spoon feed you”. Students still have to find their own study resources and initiate consults with their teachers.

Nadya added that she appreciates the opportunities she receives in MI. For instance, her external art classes are funded under the Amethyst Talent Program. She also likes that “everyone is really supportive and caring”.

Tristen Song is another MI graduate with fond memories of her school.

The Singapore Institute of Management Sociology student recalled that when she missed lectures in MI, her friends offered to share notes or teach her. “I think that’s something rarely seen in JC. From what I know, they are quite competitive when it comes to their studies.”

“The teachers [at MI] are really motivating and they really push students to do the best they can,” she said, adding that the school also prepared her with other useful skills in photography and presentation.

She’s also hopeful that as more of her juniors are able to earn a place in universities, the perception of MI will improve over time.