Teachers & CCA Leaders Speak Out on SYF Reforms

by Lye Han Jun (13A01A)

Green, black and white – without the Gold?
(source: Corporate Communications Dept File Photo)

The SYF has long been considered a biennial highlight in the calendar of Performing Arts CCAs. In 2011, RI clinched 9 Gold with Honours, 6 Golds and 5 Silvers across Year 1 to 6.

The Ministry of Education has announced that from next year, the SYF Central Judging will be renamed the SYF Arts Presentation. Instead of receiving awards, schools will receive certificates: distinction, accomplishment and commendation. The existing norm-referenced scheme will be replaced by one that is criterion-referenced, which means schools will no longer be benchmarked against each other. From next year, schools only need to score 75% to attain the highest award, rather than 85%.

Ms Daphne Lim, Head of Department of Aesthetics (Year 1-6), commented that despite the changes, the SYF was “still a major national arts education platform for schools to develop cultural awareness and appreciation through the Arts”. She emphasized that the MOE had sent a strong message that the SYF was “indeed student-centric and not just for the schools’ glory”.

This sentiment was echoed by some CCA Leaders, including Sng Geng, Chairperson of the Raffles Institution Chinese Orchestra, who told Raffles Press, “I think the Ministry is trying to move [in] a direction which places less emphasis on results and focuses on the holistic development of students.”

Others were nonchalant. Samuel Tham, Chairperson of Raffles Chorale, remarked, “For the choir, our main audience is often overseas – competitions in Europe can still provide an avenue for us to measure our standards, so the ramifications on us are less.”

However, other Performing Arts CCALs opposed the changes. There were some who felt that the changes to the SYF had gone too far. Sean Sum, Chairperson of Raffles Players, commented it was “a bit far-fetched to have removed the element of competition from SYF because it is both a form of recognition and drive for the CCA to work hard together and put up a good performance.” Even so, he admitted that he believes “the new SYF is still an important checkpoint for performing arts CCAs to review their standards through putting up a good performance. Just because there are no longer awards to be won does not render the event redundant.”

Others felt that the reforms did not go far enough. Samuel said, “The sudden changes may represent a mere inconsequential change of titles. So my question is twofold, if there is no meaningful change why change it? And what happens to the oft-touted pinnacle of musical success – the Gold with Honours award?”

By contrast, Sng Geng indicated that he was in favour of withdrawing from the SYF, but qualified his opinion by telling us, “I support it only if your CCA has something worthwhile planned to replace it. A year is a short time for schools, but a long time for students. We shouldn’t pull out just because we don’t want to do it, but because we have something better in mind.”

Indeed, it seems that “something better” is in the works. While Ms Lim reiterated RI’s strong support for the festival, she also asserted that RI has its own plans to be a trailblazer in the area of arts education in the next few years. Part of this plan entails Raffles Chamber Ensemble and Raffles Symphonic Band breaking with tradition and withdrawing from the SYF Arts Presentations. Instead, they will form of the Raffles Symphony Orchestra concert under the aegis of the Aesthetics Department, and hold a concert in April/May 2014. This will be their second in what is planned to be a series of biennial performances, following a successful inaugural concert this year.

However, such an option may not be available to all CCAs. Sng Geng feared that CCAs with little funding will have problems finding other avenues to showcase themselves and risk being overshadowed by CCAs which could afford to spend. Sean also expressed concerns that these changes would reduce the motivation for CCAs still participating in the SYF Arts Presentations to strive for the best and might affect standards in the long run.

At the end of the day, only time will tell how the changes to the SYF will affect the culture surrounding the performing arts in RI. Perhaps underlying the whole debate is a struggle for the heart of the arts. In Samuel’s words, “Are the arts purely about appreciation? Is there no such thing as competition in the arts?”

What do you think about the latest changes to the SYF? Tell us about how you feel in the comments boxes below.

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