Criticism of the RA system

Um, the RAs were created in 2006. First batch of geniuses: 2007. Yup, that’s all. I was a GEP and am a Lit RA student.

According to some guy, someone in an unnamed RA wanted to quit, and even his parents allowed it, but T – relevant authority – REFUSED to let him quit. Wtf? Too late to add this into article anyway, and IF I ADD IT I’ll be MORE screwed. No thanks. I’m only a rebel to a CERTAIN extent.


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Following RI’s decision to drop the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) system, they have come up with a replacement, at least for Secondary Three and Four. The Raffles Academies (RA) take in students who Secondary Two teachers find to display an exceptionally high aptitude in a particular subject, be it in any of the three sciences, mathematics, or the humanities subjects Geography, History or Literature. Students with more than one such niche subject may still only offer up to two Academy subjects.

Many students find it a fairer system. Special/Express students are given another chance to enter an enriched programme, so to speak. GEP students are not allowed to get complacent and slack off, knowing that they will have an enriched and ‘gifted’ education for all their four years in RI. Also, this is a sign that the school recognizes that different students have talents in different areas: the GEP system, which took in students way back in Primary Three, only considered the general English and math ability of the students. This might have left out the students interested in science and humanities subjects who were largely Chinese-educated or poor in math. However, how fair is this system, really?

Pivotal in the teacher’s selection for candidates he or she wants to put forward for an RA is the passion in the student for that particular subject. Afterall, most people believe that if a person has passion in a particular area, he or she will pursue relentlessly to learn and know more about that area, thus expediting the process of learning of the person. However, how is passion measured? The GEP had an entrance test, and admission to the Programme was obviously based on how many correct answers students managed. But passion is subjective, and the admission system for RA assumes that teachers would be able to assess the passion of his or her students after one year. Given that even most parents do not know exactly the passions of their children, and that teachers are in charge of many different classes, probably more than 100 different students, this assumption does not hold water.

To make it clearer, let me introduce two RI students, Bob and Jim. Bob is a mugger, and gets 4.0 or 3.6 for every subject. As a result, he is offered Geography RA. As a matter of fact, his high grades for Geography stem merely from the fact that he mugs day and night, and he does not have a passion in the subject. However, he feels that if he declines the offer, he would be passing up on a very enriching education, and thus pressured, he decides to take up the RA. In contrary, Jim is someone really interested in geography. He is a rare rock collector, and reads up on geography outside the syllabus everyday. However, he is not exam smart, and only managed a 3.2 for Geography. He did not receive a Geography RA invitation. Initially, he wanted to ask his geography teacher for one, but everyone else told him that the choice remained firmly with his teachers, and students could not apply for one.

In fact, the math and science RAs are more exclusive than that of the humanities RAs. It is believed that to even be considered for a math or science RA, the student in question must at least have attained a 3.8 in overall GPA. While the intention of the school management is to make sure that RA students are consistent enough in their normal studies for them to take a higher-level study in a subject, this slightly defeats the purpose of understanding that different students have different niche subjects! On the contrary, some students may have a peeve subject that pulls down their GPA, thus disqualifying them for consideration for the math and science RAs.

Additionally, the system employed last year was such that students could be offered any number of RA subjects, but that they could only choose two of them in the end. This led to certain less popular RAs having very few people – in some RAs, there are even less than 15 students. A small class size may benefit the students, who are now given more attention by their teacher, but this is obviously depriving the students who wanted to get into the RA but barely missed out.

In conclusion, I suggest that the school make a few changes to the RA admission system.

A very good change to the admission system would be that students are now able to apply for the RA of their choice at the end of Secondary Two. Naturally, they would be the fairest arbiters as to their passion and confidence in a particular subject, and those who mug would then not be given invitations in an RA they do not like. This will also make sure that there would be healthily-sized RA classes, instead of having too few students in some of the less popular RA classes, as fewer people who apply this way will be likely to reject invitations to their RAs.

Also, I recommend that the management not look so much at grades. It is a general opinion of the student populace that the teachers, who may not know a lot about their students, gave RA invitations to the students who scored the highest in overall grade. Maybe looking at the GPA of the relevant subject(s) are required to gauge the ability of the student, but looking at overall GPA for the math and science RAs is slightly unfair. This means that most of the RA students will be what most label “muggers”, and RI should be trying to shrug off that notorious tag.

The Raffles Academies are a novel way of grooming talents in different disciplines, and clearly secerns the Raffles Programme from other education programs in Singapore. However, changes to the admission system have to be made before it truly is able to sift out the truly passionate from the “mugger-of-all-trades”.

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