By Joy Tan (23A01D) and Lezann Lee (23A01C)
“How do you pronounce PCME? Like, if HELM is pronounced HEL-M then is PCME pronounced PICK-ME? Also, what does PICK ME actually mean?” asked Physics teacher Mr Harapan Ong, in a commendable attempt to relate the established with the new and trendy.
Such an attitude is certainly worth extending to our school’s 200-year-old history. In particular, we shine a spotlight on how some of the A-Level subjects offered today have changed to fit our current times and to prepare students for the future. Digging deeper into the stories of these subjects, we piece together what it really means to be honouring the past by inspiring the future.
This year, the Computing batch of 2023 will be the first to sit for the H2 A-Level subject in 18 years. While the re-introduction of the subject just last year may have come as a surprise to some, the increasing importance of computing skills today leaves many curious to find out what the return of Computing means for RI.
To students, offering Computing as a subject was a signal that the school is keeping up with the times and listening to the demands of students, who recognise the value of being well-versed in different computing dimensions in the 21st century.
The school syllabus, which now teaches and uses Python (instead of C++, as it did 18 years ago), aims to help students leverage computational thinking and problem-solving skills to make a positive impact on the world.
Naomi Wang (23S02B) shared that she chose Computing as almost every field today requires coding, given the increasing automation of services and processes globally.
However, despite its attractive promises and practical potential, opting for a subject that was as good as new invariably came with some apprehension. In fact, Naomi revealed that she was “a bit anxious because [she had] no seniors to ask for help from and no standard to compare [her work] to”.
Understandably, when one has little legacy to back at, it becomes daunting to have to pave one’s own path from scratch. “But I was able to meet fellow classmates who are interested in the subject and are passionate about it,” she adds.
Like many others, Computing has offered Naomi much more than the chance to relate to like-minded peers – studying the subject helps its students to “see the world in a more logical manner,” amongst other soft skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.
Of course, interest and passion alone may not be enough to sustain a Computing student encountering the inevitable struggles of the subject, such as applying its theories and concepts to the questions.
It is safe to say that while such challenges are not exclusive to Computing, one can get demoralised especially as a subject’s content begins to pile up. However, what matters at the end of the day is how students overcome these learning curves, and who they rely on for support.
For Rafflesians, the tight network of support from peers and teachers provides a reliable option to turn to for a helping hand – Naomi shares that she copes with her academic difficulties by “seeking help from teachers and classmates who are always there [to help].”
After all, who better to count on than those in the same boat? Today, in the spirit of Raffles’ Bicentennial, it is heartening to see how students continue to adapt in the face of evolving global demands, just like those who had paved the way for us. Indeed, it appears that keeping an open mind to take on unprecedented obstacles seems to be the way forward.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Geography? Well, a preponderant misconception is that Geography is all about the study of rocks.
Admittedly, the traditional physical geography is closely linked with geology and pedology, and we do have a fair number of Geography students who have a keen knowledge on the topic—Ng Zi Herng (23S03B) told us excitedly that his favourite rock is the “Fire Opal”.
Having said that, as a multidisciplinary field that involves a critical analysis of our world today, the true breadth and depth of Geography is indubitable. “It is an all-encompassing subject—there are so many areas of study that come under it, whether it be geology, hydrology, or climatology,” said Adi Dharmawat (23S03B).
Indeed, as any Geography student throughout the years could tell you, the subject is not only about examining the Earth and its physical features, but also about reconciling these observations to gain a more holistic conception of our natural environment.
The nature of such analysis may appear overtly clinical and impersonal to some, but our impassioned Geography students believe otherwise. “Studying geography has helped me to appreciate wacky and beautiful landscapes around me,” said Marcus Lee (23S03L).
Clearly, Geography is a weapon of knowledge which Marcus often wields to enhance his understanding of the world we live in. Geography thus offers a gift of insight, such that the wonders of our world do not go unnoticed.
Beyond Physical Geography lies another delicate field of Human Geography, which focuses on the study of how humans modify the environment and in turn are affected by changes to it. Today, in view of global sustainability goals taking centre stage in our world, the more recent curriculum has correspondingly adopted a focus on conceptual understanding of humans and their relationship with the environment.
Zi Herng explained that in studying the interactions between human societies and the environment, it is natural that one develops “a strong sense of empathy for people.” This perhaps stands out more to students today than students of the past, considering the growing emphasis on creating a more sustainable planet for all to ensure that no one—whether it be future generations or the less privileged—falls through the cracks.
Another aspect of the subject that is perhaps more relevant to students today is that delving into the sub-disciplines of Human Geography (which include cultural geography, economic geography, political geography, and social geography) exposes students to the complexities of human societies, in a way that enables them to develop a deeper awareness of different cultural perspectives and ways of life.
As Zi Herng puts it, “You cannot do Human Geography without the human connection.” The element of humanity embedded within this branch of Geography creates the grounds for students to approach their study with delicacy and nuance, in ensuring respect for and sensitivity towards the communities they get to know about.
Notably, the added emphasis on the intersection of both branches of Geography today provides students with the outlet to explore themes which incorporate both focuses, such as Development, Economy and Environment, as well as Sustainable Development and Geographical Investigation, under the A-level syllabus.
“Geography teaches us about how we can lead lifestyles that meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs,” Marcus added.
In view of the evolving sustainability landscape which is at the forefront of our global priorities in today’s day and age, Geography—the one humanities subject that delves so deeply into the human-environment relationship—has come to take on a pivotal role in equipping students with the necessary knowledge and skills to protect our environment, paving the way for a more environmentally conscious future generation.
Finally, it is time to put the study of the Sciences in Raffles under the microscope. For years, the Sciences—namely Biology, Physics and Chemistry—have been the common denominator uniting the majority of the Rafflesian population when discussing subject combinations.
What exactly does it mean to be a Science student—or teacher, for that matter? Mr Harapan Ong, who has been teaching Physics in RI since 2016 (starting off at the Y14 side before transferring to the Y56 department in 2018) offers some of his own hypotheses and conclusions.
For one, Mr Ong believes that “Science is all about curiosity at its fundamental level, (making it) the best way to find out how something works.”
Preliminary evidence to support this assertion is the shared understanding that scientific inquiry and questioning form a foundational pillar to the study of the Sciences, even as scientific methods are constantly changing in the face of disruptive technology.
In fact, observations from his 7 years of experience have enabled Mr Ong to conclude that the teaching of the subject has changed a lot, as there is now a much “greater use of technology, [such as] Excel.”
Unfortunately, he also notes that while “all of us start off curious, perhaps some of [our curiosity] gets drilled away by the education system.”
Recalling his student days as one of the first few batches of Integrated Programme (IP) students in Singapore, Mr Ong recounts that there used to be “a lot more content and route memorisation”. Despite that, he firmly believes that students have always been, and still are, “more versatile” and “adaptable” than often given credit for.
He also offers his speculations about the potential of science as a “powerful tool” leading us towards a brighter future. Thanks to the many products of science such as computer science, AI, and big data analytics, he believes that “science is the best tool to solve modern day problems.”
Mr Ong, who also happens to be known for his ingenious magic tricks—ranging from “The Hotdog Card Trick” to his “MORTAL KOMBAT CARD TRICK”—shares that “creating magic is a problem-solving kinda thing.”
For him, magic also involves a certain scientific methodology to it, and is similar to science in how both require a “compartmentalising [of] solutions [to solve] problems”.
At the same time, he also acknowledges the counter-hypothesis that science can be “dangerous”. Nevertheless, he maintains that it is still “the best tool we have despite all the pessimism,” and ultimately it all boils down to how we choose to use this tool.
When asked what he thought of the future evolution of science, Mr Ong offered his view that “the future is bright”. As the integration of technology becomes increasingly inevitable, he also foresees that “a greater understanding of technology will come into play.”
Science, in all its unpredictability and uncertainty, may remain a contentious source of worry for some. In spite of that, the adaptability and curiosity of Rafflesians are both promising and nostalgic.
Though the experiments conducted today might be different from those of the past, the desire for improvement and progress persists. Even as students and teachers alike continue to adapt and “figure out how things work,” it is this very dedication that offers a hopeful conclusion to Mr Ong’s hypotheses.