by Jervan Khou
Aurora: What does it mean? Scientifically at least, it is a natural light display, caused by the collision of charged particles in the atmosphere. It is also the theme for the orientation of the Class of 2014. Perhaps it was hoped that the collision of the supposedly brightest minds would spark off a brilliant, awe-inspiring display of beauty – one which would light up the sky.
But should it be about optics?
It’s not an orientation run for juniors, or for the fun of it, or to showcase triumph of student government. It’s about inspiring and shaping the lives and experiences of a new batch of Rafflesians —one more batch which will either strengthen, sustain or ruin years of tradition and history.
It’s not something to be taken lightly.
Considering how orientation has been treated, ‘light’ (no pun intended) would perhaps be an understatement. With (instagram-enhanced) pictures of fun, smiles, and perpetually high-spirits, one could be forgiven for mistaking orientation for an inauguration party at a new club. Perhaps that’s all orientation is – an enjoyable, fun, memorable, exciting, awesome, ‘o’some event. Rather than a rite of passage to point Year 5-6 Rafflesians in the right direction, it could be argued that Orientation has become a staged opening party.
But this shouldn’t be just a part.
The issue with approaching orientation so lightheartedly is that it propagates a culture of complacency from the very start. That sense of brashness creates a sense of entitlement, which puts new Year 5s on the wrong foot. As much as Orientation bonds, it divides — because orientation is more about having fun than about being part of a family. If you’re not cool enough because you feel left out: we’re not going to include you, we’re better off having fun without you — thank you very much for your time. In a period of transition and uncertainty, people need time for introspection and reflection as much as they need time for OG dinners. While “fun” and “meaningful” are not mutually exclusive, a line has to be drawn somewhere.
So what should be the priority?
People argue that 17 year old newbies don’t need the boring stuff, they just need the time, space and opportunities to feel at home in school. But are we really claiming that fun and games are the most integral part of school life? Those who say so claim benefits such as bonding and unity, but consider this: the core unit of the orientation concept is the Orientation Group (OG), yet how many OGs actually stay intact for long enough for that sense of bonding and belonging to be nurtured? In times of hardship, can one really count on OG mates to be by their side? Regrettably, the answer is often no: most of the time we all end up our separate ways — promising to meet but never really following through. Even if a minority of these groups succeed doesn’t the failure of the majority represent a waste of resources?
The truth is this: the OG exists in order to provide a buffer period before subject combinations are processed and class formation is completed. But with advances in technology and increased investment from the school in systems and data management, a practical constraint like this can definitely be overcome.
Perhaps in addition to OGs and houses (another structure which relevance can be called into contention), a part of orientation can be done in classes — people who you’ll be working with closely for the next two years. Many would agree that class unity counts for much in the competitive world of Junior College. Yet it seems that bringing twenty people together over four days of games and tearing them apart almost immediately afterwards, before putting these people in another new environment for the next 2 years has become accepted as the way things are done. While there is indeed a class camp to bolster class bonding, they sometimes come as late as May, exacerbating pre-existing divides. In other words, it’s too little, too late. And since we tend to favour preserving the status quo, true cohesiveness in a class is most likely to be achieved if done from the very outset.
Even if the OG/House system were retained, Orientation could be made much more meaningful than ‘blow the balloon’ or ‘passing rubber bands using straws’. Perhaps organizers should endeavor to impart certain values through the activities rather than aim to make things awkward and hide under the veneer of creating bonding opportunities Current models for leadership camps or company retreats offer some guidance in the way of organizing meaningful activities — focusing on organizational values, pushing limits, self-discovery and teamwork. This could be achieved through a combination of small-group discussions, experiential learning, and mentorship. In an environment made complex with the introduction of the opposite gender and a new group of JAE students, identification and commitment to core, timeless values is priceless.
Does increased maturity align with school direction and values?
Raffles is characterized by educational enterprise – pushing boundaries to offer new opportunities such as the gap semester and the Raffles Diploma. A departure from the local pit of having ‘just-for-fun’ orientations would not be an aberration and will likely simply set a trend towards having more meaningful orientations with focused aims and clear takeaways, without depriving its participants of the opportunity to make new friends and enjoy themselves. 4 days- especially the first 4 days of a student’s time in a school has a great impact on whether students actually buy into the philosophy, culture and values of the institution. A more serious tone in Orientation would surely make headway in placing emphasis on developing the Thinker, Leader and Pioneer rather than Gamer, Player and Member.
And what better time to make this change than now, with the increased emphasis on character, values and discipline?
But are we forgetting beauty?
True beauty lies in the awareness that happiness and pleasure isn’t everything, that there’s more to life than fun and games. Granted, a more serious orientation might be less fun to plan. In the plan for a more serious orientation, organizers will need to assume more responsibility and oversight, and orientation leaders more accountability in ensuring that the correct values are instilled — a departure from the rather simple requirement of making orientation enjoyable as it stands today.
It’s indeed a trade-off that isn;t easy, but no one said it was going to be easy. The question then lies in the drive behind orientation. Is the drive to have fun while planning? Are we planning orientation for the Class of 2014, or for the sake of the Class of 2013 O’Team? Ultimately, Orientation should not be a brief display of flashing lights; it should be one which inundates the sky in brightness for a long time to come.
Aurora: what does it mean?