Please Mind the Platform Gap: The Humanities Programme

by Michelle Zhu (15A01B)

Photos by Bryan Chua (14A01A)

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So, you’ve decided to take the road less travelled and plunge into the arts subjects. The next conundrum that most aspiring Arts students will face is whether to apply for the Humanities Programme. What is it all about really? If you missed the Humanities Programme Open House on 16/5, here is a (not so short) all-you-need-to-know guide about the Humanities Programme.

SUBJECT COMBINATIONS

The Humanities Programme has but one subject prerequisite — Literature, as required by the MOE. Literature is seen by both the school and the MOE as the core Humanities subject, therefore every student who is intending to apply for HP must offer Literature as one of his/her H2 subjects. If the prospect of spending two years analysing Shakespeare horrifies you, perhaps you should consider giving HP a pass and instead taking an alternative subject such as English Language and Linguistics in the Arts stream.

The HP student must also offer two other Humanities subjects, as well as one contrasting subject, usually Mathematics. For most, this would be either History or Geography in addition to Economics, but there are always brave souls who choose to take the less trodden paths of ELL, CLL, TLL, Music, Art or a modern language (Japanese, French, German). There is also the possibility of taking KI in place of GP alongside your H2 subjects or as one of your H2 subjects.

“Will I struggle in Lit if I did not take it in Y3-4?” Literature in JC is very different from Y3-4, being very focused on textual analysis rather than themes across texts. Many students in HP did not offer Literature as a subject in Y3-4, but are able to do equally well or even better than their peers that did. It does take a certain period of getting accustomed to literary terms and skills, but after the initial period, everyone is pretty much on an equal footing.

KEY DIFFERENCES

Arguably, HP and the Arts stream are not that different. The core content is the same, as well as having common teachers for certain subjects, notably Math, GP, PW, and Geography. Yet, HP offers a whole slew of differences, very notably having their classrooms in Block J, rather further away from the main academic blocks above the PAC. The HP classes have the benefit of their homerooms throughout the two years of JC, which double up as classrooms for most of their tutorials. Having a base to retreat to in the breaks between lessons is a definite perk, but one that inevitably comes with some degree of separation– Block J is separated from Blocks A and B, the main academic blocks where most classes have their lessons, by most of the Y5-6 campus.

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HP also has a group of teachers devoted solely to the programme. This, along with the smaller class size (around 16-18), allows more personal attention to be devoted to each student, and also makes sure there is no chance of you sleeping in class. Lecture group sizes are small, with a batch of about 50-60, making lectures fairly interactive. HP classes also tend to have more spirited class discussions than even the Arts stream classes, whether because of the people, the environment, or the smaller class size, making lessons extremely entertaining and enriching. One HP teacher often gripes that “I never manage to get anything done in class, because you talk too much!”

Ultimately, the key difference between Humanities classes and Arts classes is the environment. HP students can be a fervently passionate bunch, and lunchtime conversation about whether Proust is pronounced proost or praost is not uncommon. If you are looking for an intellectually stimulating environment with like-minded individuals, you should definitely apply for HP. If, however, your only goal is getting the As at the end of the two years, perhaps you should reconsider– HP students perform admirably well for their A-levels year after year, but many of the perks of HP are nonetheless not essential or even directly helpful in doing well for your A-levels.

PERKS OF HP

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The most well-known perks of HP would definitely be the trips. In June many of our students go for the annual summer school in Paris, jointly organised by SciencesPo and the Humanities tutors. There is also the Overseas Enrichment Programme sponsored by the MOE to any Asian country in November, as well as the Y5 class bonding camp at Mount Ophir. These are definitely hugely enriching experiences that let you see the world beyond the microcosm that is Raffles, that bring the class/batch together and that let you appreciate the unique cultures of different places.

Beyond the most exotic and glamorous bonuses, there are the discounted tickets to cultural events. Every year, each of us is offered the opportunity to go for at least one play, ballet, modern dance, opera, SSO concert, and Shakespeare in the Park at generously discounted prices. In addition, Humanities students have an extra lesson a week that goes by the somewhat prosaic name of Combined Civics. This is an hour and a half where both batches of Humanities students gather and listen to intriguing talks given by external speakers from all walks of life who come in to share their varied experiences– running completely contrary to its mundane name. Among the speakers we have had this year are Isabel Wilkerson, Adrian and Tracie Pang, Andrew Leci, TV presenter, and Antony Phillipson, British High Commissioner to Singapore. The last, in particular, was fascinating to the writer with thought-provoking, almost epigrammatic insights such as “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way”.

In addition, having a specialised team of teachers and a tight-knit batch means that there is plenty of room for self-initiated projects, big and small. The Humanz Initiative (THI), a service project that has been passed down for batches is a student-initiated project, where we work with Toa Payoh Care Corner and the Riding for the Disabled Association of Singapore. Smaller initiatives are also common, such as our goodbye project to Aunty Mahes, the Block J cleaner who recently left for Malaysia.

Personally, this writer feels the real draw of HP comes from the people. Despite the stereotype of Humanities students being outspoken or elitist, the environment in HP is very welcoming and accepting (Lewis Caroll: We’re all crazy here!). It is a place where ideas can be exchanged freely between individuals with diverse passions, where you forge friendships and engage in riveting intellectual discourse.

COMMON MYTHS

MYTH 1: Humanities students are elitist and arrogant. HP students are a considerably privileged bunch, being given more resources and opportunity in pursuit of the Humanities. But as Phionna Teo (15A01A) aptly puts it, “Being elite in the sense of being given more opportunities doesn’t make us elitist — intolerant of others”. Humanities students are frequently reminded of the need to be down-to-earth, and constantly check ourselves for any undesirable attitudes. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe there is anyone who looks down on anyone simply because we are privileged, and the culture is most definitely neither exclusive nor discriminatory.

MYTH 2: Humanities students are very segregated from the rest of the school. This is true to a certain extent, mostly because of our geographical location in Block J. There is some contention about the privileges that we get, but on a more personal level, there is no segregation between Humanities students and their counterparts in the Arts or Science streams. Inevitably, your social circle will consist of mostly people you interact with on a daily basis, but it is up to the individual to forge and maintain bonds with friends outside of HP (be it through CCAs or other avenues)– most of us have close friends outside HP, this author included, that keep us connected to the wider school community.

MYTH 3: Humanities students are all geniuses with extremely high GPAs. This is assuredly/certainly not true. There are plenty of us with GPAs that are not what the average Rafflesian would consider high, and many of us achieved less than stellar grades in Math/Science subjects. The important thing is the drive and passion for humanities– aptitude in the humanities is of course necessary, but this is not just seen through grades. We are a varied bunch, and in any case, one quickly realises that one’s Y1-4 GPA is no indicator of how well one does in JC; there are also always extremely helpful and approachable teachers to guide you along if you are struggling.

MYTH 4: Humanities students are all very outspoken with loud personalities. This is far from true– there are plenty of quieter ones among us, and they are not looked down upon in HP because of that. As an introvert myself, I have found HP to be a very accepting and welcoming environment, and the less noisy ones do eventually open up and start speaking up more about issues they care about.

MYTH 5: There is a rift between those who got in through early admission and those who came in later through the MOE HS. Of all the myths, this is probably least based on fact. The teachers do not treat the people who have one, both, or neither scholarship differently– most teachers do not even know which students have the scholarship, and neither do your peers. Classes are not sorted based on the awards you get, and most of us are generally unaware or do not perceive each other differently because of it.

APPLICATION PROCESS

If you’re sure you would like to be part of HP, the first stage of applications runs from 28th May to 28th June for both RI and RGS. This year, there will not be scholarship money as part of the RHA, but early admission to the RHP will follow the same timeline. Selection and shortlisting will be in July, with interviews conducted from mid-July to early August. You will know if you have been accepted into RHP by mid-August. For JAE and DSA students, application for RHP will be in January during the January Induction Programme next year.

If you don’t make it through early admission or if you are undecided about whether to apply for HP, fear not! The second round of the application is in November for RP applicants, and February after O-level results for JAE applicants, through the MOE Humanities Scholarship. For the past few years, all applicants that are shortlisted for the MOE interview are accepted into HP, regardless of whether they eventually receive the scholarship or not, although this is determined partially by the quota. Details of the MOE scholarship can be found here. However, the MOE scholarship is only offered to Singapore citizens, therefore if you are a foreigner or a PR who is looking to join HP, you have to apply through the RHP early admission process which began on the 28th.

Ultimately though, being in HP is not the only measure of your aptitude or passion for humanities– there are plenty of talented humanities scholars in the Arts stream. That being said, if you are looking for an environment where you can be challenged and inspired by people similarly passionate about the humanities, HP may be the right choice for you. The life of a Humanities student in RJ is a stressful but enriching one, one that any devoted scholar of the humanities will enjoy.

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