by Pavithra Ramkumar (13A01A)
On the 26th of August, Singaporeans opened their copies of the Straits Times to read that RGS would be moving to a new campus opposite RI in 2018, a move that was announced by Justice Judith Prakash during Speech Day.
While it was an announcement that surprised no one, with several Performing Arts CCAs having moved their operations to the new campus last year, it has sparked discussion over what it would mean for integration within the Raffles family and nostalgic laments for the fate of a campus that has hosted RGS girls since 1959. In true Singaporean fashion, the move has also raised speculation over what will happen to the prime land that RGS sits on, right in the heart of Orchard. Although, once again, this being Singapore, the choices are likely to be limited to a) a condominium (Ardmore Park II? Anderson Park? Oh, the suspense), or b) a shopping mall (or perhaps, for the sake of innovation, a shopping mall-cum-condominium).
There has long been speculation of a somewhat incestuous merger between the sibling schools, which has only been fuelled by the recent RI merger, and now the RGS move. On the RGS side, however, it is clear that a partnership, not a merger, is the intention. Principal Mrs Julie Hoo’s declaration during an assembly this year that there would be “absolutely no” chance of a complete merger was met with a round of raucous applause from the girls. The phrase “maintaining independence” seems the oft-repeated catchphrase concerning the RGS in the merger, in sentiments expressed by RGS girls, in a speech by Mrs Hoo, not to mention in snide remarks from online commentators speculating if ‘maintaining independence’ was a euphemism for something far more nefarious. Others were less guarded in their criticisms, such as Rei Lim from Year 5, who flatly stated that the move was “deplorable”. Move or not, for years to come, it is likely that an RGS girl will remain an RGS girl.
Others speculated if the move would change anything in terms of integration between the schools, such as Tamisha Tan from Year 4, who reflected that a physical move may not necessarily lead to integration of curriculum, something currently lacking in the Raffles family. Disparities, especially in the Maths and science syllabuses, still exist, despite efforts to combine exam papers and learning schedules. True integration would require a vast degree of bureaucratic and administrative will, and while a physical integration may facilitate the process to a certain extent, it certainly does not guarantee it. A Year 4* RGS girl (who declined to reveal her name) said, “Honestly, the only kind of integration that’s going to happen would be ‘social integration’,” using a characteristically Rafflesian euphemism for the rumoured bridge trysts that take place in the Hwa Chong family.
There are great hopes that the new campus, which is far larger, would be a significant improvement over the current. Though not, as Year 5 student Chan Kai Yan puts it, a “slum”, the Anderson campus is and will be inadequate for the needs of a growing student body. Most rejoiced or envied future generations’ freedom from the ‘containers’ (something that the Straits Times has decided to mention in every one of its reports about the move). Several RGS girls have remarked that this unfortunate publicity has resulted in several queries from curious RI boys and relatives wondering how we studied in ‘boxes’. On the other hand, some also lamented the fact that future generations would not enjoy the benefits of having Orchard at their doorstep, a huge advantage of the current campus, with Ariel Lim, a Year 4 RGS girl, remarking, “While we had Orchard pretty much to ourselves, they’ll have to share J8 (objectively an inferior good) with so many other schools.”
Opinions regarding the emotional impact of the move, at least among current Rafflesians, are far more placid. Many echoed Year 5 student Nivedha Balachandar’s pragmatic remark: “I’m going to be 23 by the time the move is completed. I don’t think it’s going to matter that much”. Others, such as Year 5 Cai Xiaohan, wondered if the emotional impact of the move would be something felt not now, but in the years to come, when we attend nostalgic alumni gatherings in our twenties (or eighties, the usual age range at the average RGS alumni gathering) in an unfamiliar, spanking-new campus. Others, like Kimberley Pah from Year 5, wondered if the new campus would have the same warmth of the old, remarking that she always felt like the Anderson campus was “hugging” her. From a personal standpoint, I recall walking past an alumni gathering held last year, where RGS girls well into thirties and forties were excitedly reminiscing as they rediscovered their old classrooms and repeating a staple of a RGS girls’ life – low school cheers in the amphitheatre, and feeling a pang of regret that my batch-mates and I would never experience the same. I will, however, enjoy telling future juniors highly exaggerated recounts (with appropriate head-shaking, sighing, and tutting) of the ‘hardships’ of the Anderson campus (‘Aye child, when I was your age, we studied in boxes, not any of this new-fangled classroom business…kids nowadays…’).
Whether Queen Street was her palace, whether Anderson was her abode, whether Braddell was where she…enjoyed being?, an RGS girl is an RGS girl.
The writer is a former RGS girl and current RI Year 5.
Erratum: the unnamed interviewee is a Year 4, not Year 3.