By Mandy Wong (22S03C)
As exams and deadlines draw nearer, the urge to drop like a fly is barely held in by that exasperated sigh – “I want to drop to H1.”
For most of us, taking 3-4 H2 subjects is the norm, so it is easy to wish for relief by switching to the H1 alternative, where content appears easier and briefer. But there are exceptions – subjects that don’t have this alternative. General Paper (GP) is one of them.
Personally, I am not the best at GP. Studying for it feels like a Herculean task: GP is too general, being literally about everything in the world. Yet the fact that our current curriculum is at H1 level implies that we are merely skimming the surface of what it means to be an “independent and reflective [thinker]”, capable of “[engaging] with the world with maturity and confidence” (from 2021 Y5 GP Introductory Package). It implies that things can get harder.
And that’s when it dawned on me. What would H2 GP look like? Below are some answers made by several GP teachers and students.
Mr Patrick Wong summed up the general response to this question perfectly, mirroring the sentiment of his fellow teachers.
“H2 GP must be aligned with the aims and ethos of the current H1 syllabus, the key ones being wide, critical reading of texts across a range of topics in order to build a deeper understanding of contemporary issues; strong grasp of the meaning, implications and issues of said texts and issues; sharpening of writing skills and organisation of information to clearly communicate opinion and evaluation.”Mr Wong
While students agreed that H2 GP would not differ much from the current H1 syllabus, many of them also believed that there would be more content to learn. Suggestions for what type of content and how it would be increased varied. Lauren Tan Wen-Li (22A01C), for instance, proposed that there would be “greater focus on ‘the Singapore situation’ for application questions (AQ)” or an option where students can “choose an area to specialise in”.
The idea of a “specialised area” appealed to Mr Adrian Tan, who put forward an idea for a Paper 3 involving “an independent research study on an issue of local or global significance”. This would mirror the Independent Study (IS) assignment done by KI students, an independent 3000-word study conducted over 6 months that constitutes 40% of the A-Level grade.
Combining further suggestions from Mr Wong and Ms Umarani gave a highly detailed description of this prospective Paper 3: from being an “extended essay… [with] proper APA in-text citations and references” to “incorporating PW as part of GP [by] including oral skills and exposure to issues in a problem-solution format”.
With regards to similarities with KI, students focused instead on the explicit content differences that make KI and GP two separate subjects rather than the format of their assessments. Shobhana Shree Manogaran (22S03C) highlighted how KI tackles more philosophical, abstract subjects while GP is directed towards social issues and how they viscerally impact people and policies.
When asked about changes to lessons, both students and teachers seemed more hesitant, suggesting only minor changes such as lessons being more “focused… on the exam” or having content “regarding more critical thinking skills”.
Currently, there are three hours of GP lessons a week, covering content, Paper 1 and 2 practices, as well as revision of core skills. However, the inclusion of a Paper 3 might mean extra lessons on library skills as well as the lone consultation with a supervising tutor.
“Students who want to pursue this would need to be very self-motivated,” Mr Tan comments, “[although] I do want to highlight that these skills are not unique to only a higher level of GP, but it would be key in any successful individual.”
So for all that it is worth, would H2 GP be a good thing to have? Clarissa Ryanputri (22A13B) disagreed, mainly due to its overlaps with KI and how H1 GP “provides the basics of literacy and critical thinking that a student would need quite well”. And given the hectic and busy schedules of many students, as well as cohort performance, it would be safe to say that current A-Level requirements for H1 GP are enough to challenge students to work rationally and apply exam skills under pressure.
Mr Wong echoed this view, whilst also offering improvements to the already-challenging H1 curriculum. In particular, he hoped that H1 GP can be at least a 2.5-year subject, with more time dedicated to deepening AQ skills.
Beyond the effects on the individual student, Mr Tan cited another reason against a H2 GP subject – the idea of labels and how they fracture a cohort.
“Imagine H2 GP students seeing themselves as better than those offering H1 GP. The study is about the same society, the same world and [we] would not need an additional layer of hierarchy. After all, in today’s world, who can truly say that they know the world better than another?”Mr Tan
The potential in H2 GP though, is not to be ignored. “I want this subject to exist,” Ms Uma says excitedly, “My GP teacher really inspired me [in JC]… I remember how she sparked that curiosity, how she made me look at things beyond the domain [of the curriculum].” She recalls how past students have returned for GP lessons simply to talk and learn more about current issues, and the excitement of “[knowing] that there are so many things I don’t know” – which makes the enhanced, more in-depth curriculum of a H2 GP even more thrilling and appealing.
Currently, H2 GP doesn’t exist – as a subject. To those who are currently struggling, it would probably sound like a nightmare. Even so, in a world where the veracity of information is constantly being questioned, and issues big and small plague systems and disrupt lives, it is not difficult to realise the importance of learning how to navigate all these.
And this goes beyond our two years of JC. Ultimately, GP is about knowing the world. And it certainly offers us quite the worldly challenge.