Friday, October 16, 2009

Oct: Think, Lead, Pioneer

With specialized schools being set up to nurture specific areas of interest such as sports, the arts and mathematics and science, some of you may be wondering: what is RI’s niche?

It is simple: leadership.

Rafflesians are meant to be the Hope of a Better Age as our motto, Auspicium Melioris Aevi, expresses. Rafflesians therefore need to be able to think, lead and pioneer in areas they are strong and passionate in, whether it be mathematics and science, the humanities, sports, performing and/or visual arts. This means that our boys should not only be trained to be excellent in a given field, but to master the skills of leading and inspiring passion in others as well. We hope to nurture not only world-class pianists but also a future Minister of the Arts. We hope to nurture not only top scientists but also CEOs of science research institutes. The CEO looks at the bigger picture, and possesses the wisdom and foresight to direct and support others to apply their knowledge for maximum positive impact on the local and global community.

How do we develop such leadership in our students and see to their social-emotional growth and character development?

One way leadership is developed is through explicit teaching of key skills, mindsets and behaviours. In RI, there are leadership development modules at every level of the students’ Character and Leadership Education (CLE) curriculum which is carried out during class-time every week for one hour. The leadership framework adopted throughout the six years of Rafflesian education is The Leadership Challenge, an evidence-based leadership model espoused by Kouzes and Posner. CLE teachers, civics tutors, form teachers and Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) teachers refer to the five tenets of leadership within this framework - Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Encourage the Heart and Enable Others to Act - to help students understand their strengths and areas for improvement. In addition, we have the Raffles Leadership Programme (RLP) for our Year 3 students as well as elective modules such as Leadership Through The Ages, a special research module conducted by Raffles alumni which examines case-studies of great leaders.

Students also need to be given the opportunity to apply the leadership skills they have learnt. These platforms include the RI Prefectorial Board, the Class Executive Committees and the CCA and House committees. Even without these formal appointments, however, students also have the opportunity to take on a variety of leadership roles as part of their daily life in RI. We believe that leadership should be a natural, organic and authentic aspect of life and not dependent on a title. Any Rafflesian can be a leader. For example, students can practice their leadership skills as group leaders for the project teams that are formed to complete project assignments for the different subjects. Students can also sign up for Student Organizing Committees which plan and run major school-wide events such as the Teachers’ Day and Youth Week celebrations. Such activities are not limited only to prefects or Class Executive Committee members.

Of course, leadership development is not just about the head (theory) and hand (practice). It is also about the heart. We want leaders who have the right values: a strong sense of purpose, a passion for service and rootedness to Singapore.

Our Community Involvement Programme sees service groups operating at the individual, class, CCA, cohort and school level. Every year, for example, our Sec 4 boys work with the Raffles Parents Association to organize a Chinese New Year Dinner for residents of nearby old folks’ homes and later in the year, are involved in a major refurbishment project for residents of one-room flats in Geylang Bahru. Service-Learning continues to be a significant component of our Research Education programme as well with many students volunteering to work with Volunteer Welfare Organizations.

As an institution with a strong tradition of public service and social engagement, Rafflesians are also constantly exposed to broader issues of national or international significance through our National Education programme. This includes the invitation of prominent speakers and former Rafflesians at the RI Lecture with Ministers, the Raffles Ambassador Series and our Lower Secondary National Education Lectures.

To help our students develop a global perspective, the school organizes various overseas learning opportunities for our young Rafflesians. Each year, besides the various CCA and academic learning journeys, all Year 2 students make a cohort trip to Malaysia together and in Year 3, students can sign up to be involved in the Overseas Immersion Programme (OIP) which sees them doing community service, school attachment and home-stay in a partner school in a neighbouring Asian country for two weeks. We hope such experiences inspire in our students an openness to different cultures and a greater sense of responsibility as global citizens.

We also want our leaders to be tough and resilient. Our rigourous CCA programme nurtures Rafflesians to be persevering and to have strength of character. CCAs also offer our boys the opportunity to develop their skills at time management, working in teams, etc. In Year 3, all boys attend a one-week Outward Bound School (OBS) programme to help them develop ruggedness, interpersonal awareness and team spirit. Our RLP also has a Boarding component because we want Rafflesians to be independent and able to interact with people from different backgrounds.

Civics Education continues to be an important part of the Rafflesian way of life in Years 5 and 6. The fast-paced environment and wider array of programmes in the JC years also stretch students’ sense of independence, initiative and drive even further. For example, at Years 5 and 6, all civics groups undergo a class cum adventure camp organized by the Raffles Institute for Experiential Learning (RIEL) which is staffed by outdoor specialists and experts in experiential education. In Years 5 and 6, students now have more than 110 clubs and CCA groups to choose from and thus, even more opportunities to lead and serve. Many social entrepreneurial projects and charity events undertaken by the JC students are student-initiated and Rafflesians annually contribute large amounts of money to voluntary organizations, within and outside of the country. Each year, more than 10 international service learning groups are mounted to places such as India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand.

In the coming years, the school will be looking into even greater exposure for all our students so as to help them further develop multicultural perspectives and engagement with other communities and societies beyond the students’ immediate circle. Our students need to know how to work with the new and the unknown. Apart from the current electives such as the Raffles Asia Programme, Raffles Bicultural Programmes (India, China and Middle East), Raffles Public Policy Programme and Raffles Renaissance Programme, we also hope to allow for even more students to be attached to local as well as foreign institutions so that they can extend their learning beyond the classroom.
What do we ask of Rafflesians, the would-be leaders whom we have heaped so much expectation on?
We hold the Promethean Day ceremony annually to allow for one cohort of leaders to pass the torch of leadership to the next. This metaphorical flame represents the Rafflesian spirit and our core values: fortitude, integrity, respect and enterprise. It is our hope that Rafflesians will use their gifts and talents to lead in serving and lead by serving, whatever their chosen paths may be. We trust that they will be men and women of character, confidence and commitment, who will leave their imprint on their community and nation.