by Law May Ning (14S03O)
I begin this response to the article titled “Why I Rejected the Raffles Academy” by conceding that as a member of it myself, my attempts at a balanced viewpoint of the system might inevitably be clouded by some sort of bias. Nonetheless, while the author brings up fair points regarding “elitism”, unequal access to resources as well as what he believes to be inherent flaws with a pull-out academic system, I feel obligated, as one of those who did join the programme, to offer my alternative viewpoint on its merits.
I am part of the Chemistry Raffles Academy and have been since scraping through the selection test in Year 2. I am not, as he refers to the different groups of students in the programme, one of the “talented” – in fact, I sincerely believe that my abilities in Chemistry would be considered average in comparison to any student in the cohort. I understand that “damaging impact on confidence” the author describes when a classmate understands in five minutes what I spent a full week to remotely grasp. Seeing just how truly gifted some of my classmates are can be an extremely humbling experience, and as he suggests, demoralising for some, but I choose to take it as a learning experience. I wanted to join the Raffles Academy to challenge myself, and always being reminded that there is so much more I don’t know or understand has instilled in me a sense of self-awareness and personal growth that I wouldn’t have achieved otherwise. A person can’t possibly be the best in everything or know everything in the world. Being aware of that not only creates more realistic expectations in life, but also encourages constant improvement. Rather like the “big-fish-small-pond” or “small-fish-big-pond” effect, it is up to each individual to decide whether an intellectually demanding environment is best for achieving his or her full potential.
In fact, having met classmates so talented in their respective fields, I am all the more convinced of the necessity of such a pull-out programme. I’m sure at some point in our lives we’ve each encountered that person in class. The one who keeps asking questions that nobody can comprehend and stalls the whole class; or the one who, having completed 3 full topics ahead of the class, nods off to sleep to the sympathetic glances of teachers and classmates alike. For mere pragmatism’s sake, grouping students of similar ability together serves to allow teachers an easier time to pace the lesson, as well as to keep most of the class engaged. The oft tossed about “every school a good school” phrase taken from its entirety on the Ministry of Education website goes on to say that it aims to “provide every child with the opportunity to develop holistically and maximise his or her potential”. This does not exclude those who show remarkable talent in particular areas. We do not hold back sportsmen from undergoing intensive training so as to improve themselves and win medals at tournaments, so why is it that when physical skill is replaced with intellectual capacity it suddenly becomes “elitism”?
As with the many enrichment programmes the school offers, I believe it is all a question of resource allocation. It doesn’t matter whether one is involved in the Humanities Programme, the humanities equivalent of the Raffles Academy for the sciences, the International Service Learning Programme, or even in the Rugby team. I feel that such programmes, on a most basic level, exist so students can join what they want to do with their 2 years in JC. Problems such as having to take selection tests, going through interviews and streaming such that only students who are “good” in that particular area can join it are an unfortunate byproduct of the limited nature of any resource. The problem lies not then in the programme itself, but in the selection process (but how then, would one select which students could join which programme? Random allocation would certainly leave students dissatisfied, and other methods like a first-come-first-serve selection certainly bring up other fundamental questions about “equality” of opportunity.)
And as for the author’s issues on “excessive intellectual homogeneity”, isn’t it a natural consequence that people who like science may be of a certain, more intellectually-inclined profile as would people who join Sports CCAs athletically-inclined? The “PW aim of working with people of different backgrounds” he elicits is in itself negated when classes, by virtue of the challenges of class allocations, are often grouped by subject combination and by extension interests and strengths. Humanities classes, on the whole, tend to have way more girls than guys, while certain science combinations, including RA classes, may have more guys than girls. This is not a problem isolated to any particular programme but simply by how people of similar profiles tend to select similar subject combinations. To rectify it would suggest a revamp of the entire class and subject allocation system which bring on a host of other problems with implementation and practicality.
With regard to specific criticisms he elucidates regarding Raffles Academy, I believe the author is somewhat mistaken when he refers to RA students having “tailored opportunities” and having pressure on them to “take up these opportunities they are not particularly interested in.” I have never participated in the any science Olympiads nor, to the best of my knowledge, received any sort of favouritism in applying for Science Research Programmes or the like. RA students are not required to take up any such programmes beyond having the chance to attend occasional science talks and participate in certain in-class “projects”, like the Biology RA’s Research Immersion Programme which involves them growing organisms in a lab for a short duration of time. These extended practicals are not exactly “a host of privileges, such as extra activities, competitions, and special programmes, that deserve to be scrutinized”. Extra-curricular activities like the Science Research Programme and competitions such as Olympiad programmes are, as far as I know, independent of the RA programme and opened to anyone interested. I personally know of non-RA students who have participated and won prizes, with one such Humanities student even attaining urban-legend status by winning a Gold medal in the Biomedical Olympiad without even taking Biology. Admittedly, majority of the students in the Olympiad programmes are, indeed, Raffles Academy students, but I propose that this is due to correlation: only students who are extremely passionate in science would join Olympiad programmes by extension, such students would most likely have tried to join the Raffles Academy programme anyhow.
Just as the author does not regret rejecting the Raffles Academy, I do not regret joining it. It has been tough, yes, and his arguments do have some truth to it, but I am grateful for not just the chance to test my own limits and find out more about the subject I am interested in, but for being able to meet all these truly talented and passionate individuals whom I look up to and respect. To remove such programmes entirely would forsake these individuals’ chances for advancement. And isn’t that the whole idea of the Rafflesian pursuit of excellence, as the author puts it, to “strive to give nothing less than [each individual] possibly can”?
You may want to take a look at an alternative point of view offered by another of our authors.