How to Improve the Raffles Diploma

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By Yeo Jia Qi (15S03H)

Page 4 of the Raffles Diploma booklet, issued to all Rafflesian students.

Ever since it was introduced, the Raffles Diploma has been received by students with a significant amount of cynicism. The RD has been dismissed as an attempt to copy a rival school, a tokenistic effort to polish our records even more, yet another chance for students to create a laundry list of achievements, and even a way to force us to achieve a minimum grade for Mother Tongue or attend Assembly programmes. I believe that such criticisms are short-sighted and ignore the RD’s inherent potential and genuine merits. However, the reality is that students have become disillusioned with the RD, taking issue with how the Diploma is designed, the perceived inflexibility in the way it is awarded, and its inability to motivate us. This makes the RD a wasted opportunity.

The indifference and cynicism with which many view the RD is unfortunate, because the RD has undeniable benefits which most overlook. Its basic criteria serve to set the RP’s minimum expectations — all of us have to meet them, regardless of how stellar our other records are. These basic criteria thus make the RD a far more unique system of certification than the CCA record or A-Level result slip. The RD also recognises more diverse achievements, such as projects that we initiate by ourselves. Because of this potential, we can and should take action to improve the RD. To meaningfully do so would mean making the RD more flexible, more useful, and more legitimate.

The first reason why most are disillusioned with the RD is that for many students, it seems superfluous. The leadership positions, CCA achievements and CiP involvement it reflects are already largely represented in a student’s CCA record. There are a few exceptions — but these tend to apply to a privileged minority, such as students representing Singapore in the International Science Olympiads. The majority of ordinary students find their RD largely overlaps with existing certification, causing them to wonder just how much they can benefit from it.

The award of the Diploma could also afford to be more flexible, for the current assessment criteria are far too rigid. They effectively make up an intricate assessment rubric, and to satisfy them means conforming to a predetermined laundry list of achievements. This rigidity means that it is difficult to accommodate activities that are not listed or cannot neatly fit under any one category or domain. During the verification exercise, much effort goes into painstakingly spelling out why specific achievements cannot be reflected, or pointing out that they will be recognised somewhere else. This lack of flexibility discourages those among us who cannot meet all of the criteria, and so cannot qualify for a merit or distinction anyway. Then, for those of us who actually do qualify, whether a merit or distinction is granted depends largely on a personal statement assessed on criteria which many find rather subjective: we are asked to show ‘maturity of thought’, ‘grasp of fundamental ethics’ and ‘passion/sense of purpose’. In particular, some question if a short personal statement is able to encapsulate a student’s experiences over three and a half years. All these additional steps make the award process appear tedious and arbitrary.

At its heart, probably the key issue regarding the RD is a lack of motivation among students. To many, it has become nothing more than a checklist forcing all of us to tick off a few items, like clocking 12 compulsory CiP hours or attending an Arts Assembly talk. Even if we do not meet the most basic criteria, we feel little impact since we are still awarded our School Graduation Certificate, A-Level result slip and testimonial. That would be different if we believed that getting an RD distinction would actually help us get into, say Oxbridge or an Ivy league university, but the reality is that the RD fails to motivate us to do our best.

What can we do to make the RD more than the wasted opportunity it is now? To begin with, the RD can be more flexible by being inclusive rather than exclusive. We should no longer laboriously draw up a laundry list of rigidly categorised achievements. It should be possible to recognise any student achievement that falls under sanctioned school programmes, including achievements that existing CCA records do not capture. There should also be much greater flexibility in classifying an achievement under a particular domain. This would allow a single event to be recognized under multiple domains, making the RD more holistic overall. For example, a self-initiated service project could be recognised under both the leadership and community domains, which makes sense since working with group members and external stakeholders definitely develops leadership and interpersonal skills.

To make the RD more legitimate, we should also simplify the award process. This can be done simply by completely removing the merit and distinction awards. The title of the diploma, whether a one-size-fits-all merit or distinction awarded to a privileged few, or a basic diploma for the masses, will no longer be important. We can then truly focus on letting the RD holistically reflect every single student’s individual achievements and strengths. To do so, I propose that we go even further. We should merge the repetitive recognition documents we have and make the RD the sole document we award to graduating cohorts. The RD can incorporate our testimonial and our School Graduation Certificate, which are basically just additional lists of our most significant achievements. This radical move would instantly give the RD unprecedented legitimacy as the sole certification of our 6-year Raffles Programme, thus addressing the cynical attitude towards it being just another piece of documentation.

Finally, to better motivate students, the entire application process should be made more empowering for students. The onus should be on students to apply for recognition rather than wait for verification exercises to come around. This would be like the approval process for community service projects. Rather than the current more top-down approach, students must be given the chance to take the initiative to get our own achievements recognised and define what they believe their key achievements are. The RD can better reflect our diverse achievements if we are given an active part to play. This will make the RD much more than a checklist of predetermined criteria we have no say in.

The fundamental concept of the RD is sound, and it has been created with good intentions. But in practice, its flaws have led to unnecessary and unhealthy cynicism. If the Institution genuinely wants to uniquely recognize our diverse achievements, it should boldly invest resources, effort and time into redesigning the RD. While the RD is clearly an initiative designed to benefit us, as it currently stands, it remains a sad waste of an enormously valuable opportunity.

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One thought on “How to Improve the Raffles Diploma”

  1. A fine plan and fine ideas but ultimately not directed at the root of the problem.

    The first factor to consider when looking at the problems that RD faces is the root cause. Why exactly do students feel that it is worthless; you addressed this briefly in “getting an RD distinction would actually help us get into, say Oxbridge or an Ivy league university”. Years after its roll-out, it still serves no great purpose.

    Discount the international colleges for a moment. The RD has not even penetrated into the considerations of the local universities. When filling up applications, one has to repeat all the achievements that go into RD and more; putting an RD distinction serves only to fill up a valuable, scarce space in the form. If there has not been any recognition here in Singapore by anyone outside of RI, why should anyone truly bother with it? There is no value-add.

    Secondly, the idea that the SGC and the testimonial can be integrated is misguided. RI has no great influence on the administrative process of admissions and job applications in Singapore let alone worldwide. To replace extremely visible and key documents certifying one’s graduation with an unknown (to them) is highly risky. Even now some of our certifications took a long time to become accepted into the mainstream overseas: the IP for example, and that has the backing and explanation from MOE in each of our SGCs. The RD has no such illustrious backing.

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