Monday, September 21, 2009

Speak Good English

Dear parents,

The Minister for Education, at the recent Workplan Seminar for MOE staff and principals, highlighted renewed efforts to get our schools and students to raise their English proficiency level. Nurturing the communication and language skills of young Singaporeans is crucial in ensuring that they will be able to thrive in our increasingly globalised world.

As parents, you may like to know what RI does to expose students to good English and to ensure a high standard of language use, both in written and oral forms.

To begin with, every morning before flag-raising, the BBC World Service is played so that our boys listen to models of good pronunciation and also gain an understanding of key issues affecting the world. Every Wednesday, a carefully selected short story is also circulated at the parade square to all who wish to have something to read before flag-raising or for the rest of the day. This is one of the projects launched by the English department to introduce our boys to a wide spectrum of literature such as Maupassant, Narayanan and Poe. Another initiative is the Books, Blokes and Breakfast series where alumni, including teachers who are Old Boys, talk about their favourite books during recess time at the main atrium. The tagline for this programme? – Real Men Read!  

In addition to our Oral Communication curriculum for the Lower Secondary pupils, oral presentation skills also feature strongly in the assessment for Research Education and all Sec 4 students end the year with an Oral Defence where they present a reflection piece about their time in RI to their classmates, teachers and parents. There are various after-school activities as well to encourage our young Rafflesians to improve their reading, writing and speaking skills. The English department runs numerous poetry, prose and playwriting workshops, often with the help of professional writers like Alvin Pang to serve as role models, while the Philosophy department runs a Philosopher’s CafĂ© which is a space for students to come together, speak their minds and hone their skills in verbal expression.

Educationists agree that drama is a particularly effective way to improve language skills. Besides the annual inter-house Drama Festival which sees our boys write, direct and perform original works, we also have the inter-class Drama Challenge for all Sec 2 students and the Parody Showcase by the Upper Secondary students.

Our success in various oratorical and creative writing competitions both local and international is testimony to the language prowess of our boys. Scrabble, has been steadily gaining popularity in the school as well and I am proud to say that, for the third year running, we have emerged champions for the National Inter-School Scrabble Competition. We are even prouder of the fact that our boys share their skills with others - we have students conducting drama workshops in other schools, running Book Clubs for the community and debate workshops for primary school enthusiasts who want to learn more about the art.

In fact, there is so much interest in debating among Rafflesians that we plan to establish a Debate Academy within RI with alumni as Fellows to help conduct clinics and training sessions not only for the Debating Club members but all Rafflesians. Debating is, after all, an excellent platform to train students to think on their feet and articulate their thoughts, and we hope to further build on our school’s good reputation after our recent achievements at The Arena, the Julia Gabriel’s Inter-School Debating Championships (six-time champion) and the World Debating Championships where RI placed an impressive three speakers in the Top 10 Best Individual Speaker list

Of course, good speaking is not only for competitions and assessments. It needs to be a part of everyday life. That is why we are committed to giving students every opportunity to engage in public speaking in authentic settings. Flag-raising and morning announcements are all managed by the students themselves rather than teachers and even for major school functions, Rafflesians are given the opportunity to interact with VIPs, serve as emcees and moderate forum discussions. No easy feat for boys so young but our Rafflesians always rise to the occasion.   

Let me assure parents that we will continue to work towards exposing our boys to a high standard of English and encouraging them to read widely so that they can articulate their views on a variety of issues with confidence, precision and flair. This will prepare them to take on the demanding leadership roles of tomorrow. 

Lai Cheng