By Divya Muthiah (14S06C) and Sushma Pai (14S03R)

This column features the story of RI and RJC through the perspective of two teachers Mrs Tan Mui Hong and Ms Koo Mee Ling. Both teachers started their teaching career here in Raffles in the late 1980s and have been here ever since, making them two of our longest serving staff. Mrs Tan and Ms Koo are both Math teachers from the Year 1–4 and Year 5–6 sides respectively. In an interview with Raffles Press they shared their thoughts on how the school has evolved in the past few years.

Ms Koo Mee Ling (background) and Mrs Tan Mui Hong (foreground)
Ms Koo Mee Ling (background) and Mrs Tan Mui Hong (foreground)

How did it feel like, back when RJC separated from RI?

Mrs Tan: It was very tough—it took us a number of years to finish separating our events from RJC. We separated in 1982, and I think the last event before we separated was Founders’ Day. Our track and field events, prize giving ceremonies and a lot of other functions were still together, and only after the third year following the separation did we split functions. We also wanted to change the RJC uniform, but there was strong opposition from old boys. Even the badge was to be changed but everyone protested. So nothing could be done. The principal, Mr Rudy Mosbergen, struggled a lot, I remember.

Why was separation even necessary?

Mrs Tan: Other schools were already following the JC system—for example, the lecture-tutorial system—so RI had to move ahead as well.

What was it like after separation?

Mrs Tan: The temporary JC campus at Paterson didn’t have many facilities so we had to use some facilities on the RI side. During the two years at Paterson, we didn’t really feel separated because we shared facilities with RI—labs, gymnasiums; the boys even used to walk to the RJC side canteen during break. It was only when we moved to Mt Sinai that we really felt the separation.

The main blow was felt mainly by the secondary school students. The Sec 4s, who were considered young then, had to suddenly take up leadership roles because the Year 5s and 6s who were previously running the school events were all pulled out of the school. It must have been daunting for them.

That said, the leaders from Year 5 and Year 6 did go back to RI side, and they were the ones who still ran the CCA. So it was a gradual change for the secondary side, which was a good move.

You’ve seen so many batches of students over the years—have they changed since then?

Mrs Tan: Definitely. (Teachers laugh and give each other knowing looks)

Ms Koo: Definitely.

In what way?

Mrs Tan: We’re saying that our current students are like a bunch of tuition kids. It’s a very different generation now. The students in the eighties played and worked hard, which is the real, true tradition of Raffles. They knew when to play and when to work. So actually, I’m very impressed by them.

But I think the culture is quite different now. Our students always feel so stressed because they are worried about their marks whereas they never worried that much in the past. Although students back then still had to study hard for their A-Level and O-Level exams, the worrying was less before the Integrated Programme. The competition is very stiff now among the students. That somehow kills the fun of studying.

Also, I think there are more distractions now for students, unlike in the past, when those who were interested just spent all their time studying so they were very knowledgeable. Even without all the iPhones and technology, what they had was knowledge. Now, our students have too many distractions and they do not have the time to really sit down and actually digest what they learn. So every day just passes by like that. Too many things happen.

How do you feel with each graduating batch of students?

Mrs Tan: I used to feel sad, but not anymore now because they just move next door. In the past, they’d go to Mount Sinai and I would hardly meet them until Teachers’ Day when they came to visit me.

But it must be easier for the Year 5–6 teachers, like Ms Koo. I remember when I used to teach in the JC side, I didn’t feel that sad as it was a very short period of just one and a half years. So the rapport with the students is not as strong. Moreover, with technology and social networks like Facebook and Whatsapp, keeping in touch is never a problem. In fact my students in Cambridge every now and then will just tell me ‘today it snowed again’. So you don’t feel the parting pain as much as in the past.

Ms Koo: Moreover, the classroom system brings students and teachers closer together as compared to in JC, where teachers have to rush to complete the syllabus in what little time they have. So they don’t have time to really sit down and interact. We’re always just trying to complete the tutorials as much as we can and are tight with time.

Mrs Tan: That’s true…In fact when I taught in the JC side, what I did was that I brought my marking down to the canteen so that I could meet up with my students and chit-chat with them while doing it. Because if not, there is no chance to talk to them. During tutorials, there is only time to catch up with the lectures.

Could you share with us some memorable events or interesting students you’ve encountered in your teaching career?

Mrs Tan: When I left the JC side to go to the RI side I missed having girls. Girls are generally more sensitive. Like during Valentines’ Day, the girls used to bake cookies, bring cupcakes and all to show their appreciation for the teachers—I think it’s still happening now. But over at the RI side, they are young boys so they don’t really care much about Valentines’ Day—I really missed it when I moved from RJC to RI.

Ms Koo: Whenever we had the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF), the band practiced in the field which was in the middle of the academic block at the Grange Road Campus, so the whole school used to come down to watch them, cheer them on during their competition and so on. It was very difficult to conduct lessons with the band playing and all the marching going on so sometimes SYF week was declared a holiday— this also gave students time to practice.

Mrs Tan: One year, we decided to start a pull-out group—it was in 1992 and we decided to try something new. At that time, I was the HOD of Math and we still had O-Levels. So we took out all the weaker Sec 3 students from each class, those scoring F9s and all. The school was willing to buy a container room—a metal box, where we housed this small group of students and I taught them. That means that only for Math, they would come out of their classes to this class. We tried it out for a year, and the results were fantastic—none of them failed in the end and the lowest was a B3 for O levels. Just recently, I met one of these boys, and he told me something that made me feel really happy: ‘Every time we had to leave our classroom to go to this small unpleasant container room, the feeling that I got was as if I was going home.’ Actually, we were supposed to try out for only a term and then pull the better students out, but nobody wanted to leave the class. It was really touching to hear him say that and that is the beautiful part about teaching. The joy you derive from every student you teach is really something that you cannot describe.

Moving on to a lighter topic, what do you think of the school facilities, the canteen food variety and all? Was the food better in the past or the present?

Mrs Tan: I don’t understand why the Year 5s and 6s want to come to the Year 1–4 canteen. The Year 5–6 side has more variety and tastes better. I always go over to the Year 5–6 canteen to buy food, and I’m like ‘can you see we’re walking here and they’re walking there?’ I think you all are very lucky as the food is very nice whereas it can be improved at the Year 1–4 side.

In the past, we had a really good prata stall. In fact, my husband till now still misses the prata from that stall! But I must say the hygiene level was very low last time. It’s so much better now, even though the price is a bit stiff at times nowadays.

Ms Koo: It’s more expensive now because the stalls are contracted out and the shopkeepers have to pay for rental and all that.

What do you feel about the future of RI? What changes do you wish to see?

Mrs Tan: I was very excited when our new Minister of Education announced our new focus for this year to be character education, so I really hope to see not just RI but the whole system changing. I want them to learn a lot of other things from me, not just Math. So I really hope to see a school where all my students look forward to come to school. If I speak in terms of kinematics, I want to see my students come to school with increasing velocity and be reluctant to leave the school and leave with decreasing velocity. Just like my student, who walked to school feeling like he was returning home, and who loved school and enjoyed every moment of his lessons. I want them to enjoy learning as a process and not just as a means to get ‘A’s.