By Adeline Wong
A: I’m excited to be back, to return to a place that gave me and my friends so many fond memories, the firm foundation for higher education, and also the right attitudes towards life and work. I see this appointment as an opportunity to contribute back to my alma mater, and of course with the new campus development, it’s also a chance-of-a-lifetime to create a leading-edge campus to support our vision and mission. It’s a lot of work, but my team and I are very excited.
So what was it like back then when I was a student? I think many things have remained the same. Firstly, RGS is still a school of choice for many girls, and we continue to take in students from many primary schools. I remember how, as a Sec 1 student, I had multi-talented friends who came from a spread of primary schools from different parts of Singapore. Secondly, I was also very impressed by the prefectorial board, by how the prefects led in the forefront, and how they assisted the teachers in running the school. Today, student leadership development is a cornerstone of our character education and the prefects are still leading and serving with impact. Thirdly and most importantly, the RGS school spirit has remained strong and our school events have continued to be very vibrant and of the highest standards. Back in those days, we had to audition to perform on Founders’ Day and Speech Day, and we were always ecstatic to be selected. That sense of pride and affiliation to the school, where the girls eagerly volunteer to participate in school events, has been firmly anchored in RGS.
So what has changed? We have certainly grown in size—in every sense. Other than our larger school campus (we have taken over the land that was once used by Anderson Secondary School), we now offer many new subjects and programmes that were not present during my time. The assessment system has also changed—instead of major mid-year and final-year exams, we now have continual tests throughout the year.
Because of the many programmes that we offer, the girls now spend longer hours in the school. I used to be able to go home at 2pm on two to three days each week, but I doubt our students can do that today—most leave at 5pm or even later, especially when they have CCA training. And to run so many programmes, we’ve also hired more teachers and staff. Over the last two decades, our staff strength has doubled to almost 200. These are some of the visible changes for the RGS visitor today. RGS is a very busy place now —much busier than before.
Q: As an old girl, how would you describe the alumni scene in RGS, and what can alumni do to give back to the school?
A: Although I’ve only been here for three months, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting up with various members of the alumni. The school is now collaborating with the alumni to raise funds for the new campus. There is, of course, the RGS chapter in the ORA, and then we also have old girls who are very active in the Parents of RGS (PRGS) association. Besides these two groups, there are also alumni out there who are passionate about giving back to the school, and some of them have stepped forth to volunteer their time, expertise or donations to support the development of the new campus.
I think we can be more systematic, going forward, in reaching out to batches of RGS girls and letting them know how they can support the school —not just for the new campus, but in every way possible. They could give talks, offer attachments in their companies, link us up with potential donors, or even join the Board. Right now, we are trying to set up the RGS alumnae, but this is still a work in progress as the leadership is not yet firmed up. We hope to establish the alumnae in these two years.
Q: Could you tell us more about RGS’ upcoming move to Braddell-Westlake?
A: The plan is to move into the new campus in Dec 2017, but this is an ambitious timeline. Our current land area is 5.5 ha, and at the new site, we’ll have 7 + 1 ha—7 usable hectares of land, and the remaining hectare is the land that covers the drains so we may not be able to build above it, but it’s still open space that the school can call its own. The campus will be built in phases and some of the facilities, especially non-standard ones, will not be ready by Dec 2017. A lot will depend on the amount of funds that the RGS community can raise in the next decade and MOE’s approval to construct those facilities.
We also recognise that being near RI would mean that we can leverage some of the facilities and programmes in RI, leading to an even more meaningful exchange between the two schools. We’re working on a narrative for the campus now, having done one round of consultation with students and staff, and we hope to build a campus that can reflect our character—innovative and trailblazing, inspiring in our mission and actions, and retaining the rich heritage that RGS is proud to have.
Q: Is there going to be a bridge linking RGS and RI?
A: Yes! There’s been talk about building that bridge, but we’ve not settled on who’s paying for the bridge yet! (laughs) I hear that the old boys from RI are very keen to help, though!
Q: What do you envision the RGS of the future to be, and how do you aim to achieve this vision?
A: This is a big question, as I’ve only been here for three months. I have some preliminary plans which I’m sharing here, but I intend to speak with and gather views from more people to craft a collective vision.
In RGS, we have a dual mission. First, as a premier girls’ school, we have a responsibility to nurture the future female leaders of Singapore. Second, being an independent IP school, we are expected to be a trailblazer in our programmes and policies, setting the pace and bringing value to entire community. We have been doing that very well, and we’ve come a long way. So the question is: how do we stay ahead of the curve? Singapore’s education system has also matured, with many countries benchmarking against us in our practices and policies. So for a school in the forefront like RGS, there are not many models that we can copy and replicate. So where do we look to for inspiration? I think, for the next phase, we will have to look within and tap on our three strengths—our students, our staff, and our partners.
The first strength is that of our students, for them to become co-pedagogues, and to co-create the curriculum and pedagogy with their teachers. This may sound like a tall order for students, especially when they have not been schooled in educational theories and curriculum design, but our students are very talented and they will be able to provide valuable input to enhance the lessons and enrich their learning.
The second is that of our teachers, for them to be instructional leaders by being masters of their craft and sharing their knowledge and skills with the fraternity. And we can draw upon their repertoire of knowledge to improve the way we teach and the way students learn. Ultimately, our teachers must be pioneers in their work and be able to help uplift the quality of instruction in Singapore.
The third is that of our parents and the alumni, for them to contribute to our success. Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of people who want to give back to the school in whatever way they can, and we want to further engage them to shape our work.
In other words, we hope to tap on our own people and partners to create a world-class institution. But what does a world-class institution really mean?
If you were to enter a world-class restaurant, regardless of which waiter serves you, or which item on the menu you pick, you would expect nothing less than good service and a delicious dish. Even if you were served by a temporary waitress, or if your dish was cooked by a replacement chef, you would still expect to have nothing short of excellent food and service.
So the same concept applies: if we were a world-class institution, we should be able to showcase any lesson or programme, anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. And that is a powerful idea, because it means that everyone is on the same page—we know our standards and we are able to deliver a consistently excellent experience for everyone. It also means that anyone stepping into the school will feel warmth, vibrancy, and an embracing culture. And when one steps into a classroom, one observes lessons that generate excitement and enthusiasm about the subject.
So that idea of high and consistent standards is something that I would like to work towards, and I also want to create that open culture of sharing, where our teachers and students are always prepared for people to visit and collaborate, and to see for themselves what RGS is really like.
Finally, we must ask ourselves, ‘who is the RGS Girl?’, as these girls are likely to be future leaders of Singapore. Three qualities of the RGS girl stand out for me: capable, reflective, action-oriented—but are there other traits that we want to see in an RGS girl? We’re having further conversations with our people—the parents, alumni, staff, students and community, and we want to sharpen the notion of the ‘RGS Girl’, so that our girls will become female leaders of distinction to serve the nation and society.
Q: Where would you say RGS is currently, in terms of your vision?
A: We’re definitely off to a good start, as we have wonderful students, a collegial staff, a great school culture and established systems and processes. Indeed, we have come a long way as a school, due to the contributions of our predecessors. What we need to do now is to articulate our definition of high standards and decide collectively how to arrive there. There is still much to be done to become a world class institution.