Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December: Teen Engagement

As we approach the end of the 2009 school term, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Rafflesian families a happy and well-deserved break from work and school. The year-end is a time when the rhythm of work slows down and I hope all of you will be able to spend some quality time reconnecting with your loved ones.

I have a teenage daughter myself and I have gained a few insights this last year, talking to her and through meetings I had with parents and students who are facing challenges. There is an occupational hazard which I have observed in Rafflesian parents, including myself. We are oftentimes trapped by our own success. Our children have done well because of the supervision and care which we have given them in their primary school years. As we ourselves get more absorbed in our work, we spend less time with them, thinking they are old enough to take care of themselves. Some of us are out of the country fairly often. We come home late from work tired and are back on our computer after dinner. Since school work is so demanding anyway, we expect our children to be absorbed in their studies. We ignore signs of the growing gulf between parent and child and wonder why our teenagers prefer to spend time with their friends outside of home, rather than with us. We wonder why they are slacking in their work. We try to get the boys off gaming, but besides nagging at them to stop, we have little by way of conversation topics, to engage them.

Doing poorly in school, for students who are strong academically is at best a symptom of a deeper issue the child is facing. Do we really know what is eating at the hearts of our teens? Do we know the depth of their loneliness and need for connection? Most of us grew up very independently of our parents, and we have managed solitude and the confusion of the teenage years well. This generation, I discover, appear to be more reliant on others and seem unable to be by themselves for long. They get bored and discouraged easily.

The Raffles Parents’ Association has, in the course of this year, conducted talks on how to relate to our teenagers. Some of you have attended these and I hope they have been useful. May I encourage more to get together when such platforms are available, so that we can better support each other to help our kids through their teenage years. In an environment where the media, peer influence and shifting values work to confound what we teach at home and in our Character and Learning Education (CLE) class, we need as much time as possible to relate to our children, in an uncritical and non-evaluative manner. Never appear shocked at what they tell you, of what they and their friends get up to. Help them analyze situations impartially and give them time to think through what is the best way to respond to the issues.

Stay home as much as possible so that your child will be comforted that you are there for him/her when they are home. There is no need for conversation if they do not wish to chat. Just be there.

Keep in close touch with your children’s teachers. Keep in close touch with other parents. If you would like to have a chat with a parent of a teenager, do email me at principal@ri.sch.edu.sg. I shall be happy to chat.

Warmest wishes for a cosy and happy end of year.

November: Why History Matters in RI

I was not able to be present at the townhall meeting on 21 November to discuss leadership development in RI. I was quite tickled by the fact, when told to me by Deputy Principal Mr Kenneth Kwok who chaired the session, that there was a discussion on whether it is preferable to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond. I am extremely grateful to the parent who stole the show by his calm explanation that, whether it is “a big fish in a small pond” or “a small fish in a big pond”, the “size of the fish is still the same” and that what is important is the “quality of the water”. What a clever way of putting it!

RI, as most of you know, provides a unique environment for our students. Apart from being a place where curious minds are constantly being challenged and opportunities abound for students to pursue individual passions and interests guided by passionate teachers, one irreplaceable factor that makes it stand out from any other school in Singapore is its history.

RI would be just another one of a few high performing schools, without its heritage and history. Which other school in Singapore was personally founded by Sir Stamford Raffles himself, and designated to be the education hub that would inspire the best in those who would inherit the leadership of the land? Which other school in Singapore has a patron, William Wilberforce, who was the only member of parliament in Victorian England to dare to question the inhumanity of the slave trade and worked for decades to abolish it? Which other school in Singapore can boast of headmasters who were Queen scholars, or able to shoot tigers that appeared in the billiard rooms, at the turn of the century? Which other school in Singapore has nurtured fiery young minds who, adorned in white uniforms, went on to shape the future of a new nation?

Every student in RI has a copy of “The Eagle Breeds a Gryphon”. I hope that every child and parent will take time to read the book and appreciate the evolution and development of Raffles Institution. Realize that the success of RI and Singapore is not by chance. It is instead founded upon sheer tenacity and a steely will, on the part of those who knew what they had to do, and were prepared to sacrifice their lives to make vision a reality.

To be able to grasp the future well, we have to connect with our past and realize our destiny. May every Rafflesian student charge ahead, like the gryphon on our crest, ever willing to blaze the trail and lead the way.

Auspicium melioris aevi. Hope of a better age.