By John Cai (4A), Ramgopal Venkateswaran (3C), Kylie Wong (14A01B), Lim Shao Min (14S03K) and Gaius Ong (14A01B)
From its humble beginnings 91 years ago as the brainchild of headmaster D A Bishop (the first Houses were originally named House One, Two, Three and Four!) to the double-barrelled Year 5–6 Houses we have today, the House system has shaped many generations of Rafflesians. We sent out a team of writers to investigate how we transitioned from Faculties in RJC to our current Year 5–6 Houses, and also caught up with our Year 1–4 House Captains for an update on the House landscape.
THE BIG HOUSE-SWOP
2007 was a year marked with significant changes in RJC. The system of classifying students based on their subject combinations had become irrelevant and passé, as the revamped A-Level syllabus had removed the Double Math combination, rendering the Engineering Faculty obsolete. In addition, the Faculty system left much to be desired in terms of fairness—due to sheer numerical advantage, the Medicine Faculty (those who took the Triple Science combination) was winning every inter-Faculty competition there was!
Faced with a pressing need to change the system such that it would ensure a level playing field for all, a six-House system was initially proposed. However, after multiple discussions, the school staff decided that six was just too many—a five-House system would ensure an easier alignment with the House systems of RI and RGS, and would also better support the building of both schools’ identities as one Raffles.
There were also concerns voiced by several staff members about possible conflicts of interests between the Student Council and the future House Committee. With two departments operating separately, the prospect of duplicate events vying for student participation was high.
Dean of Student Development Ms Melissa Lim (RJC, 1992), who was involved with the transition process, put it this way, ‘You are eventually going to have either too many activities in the school or you’re going to have people competing to show that they can do more.’ Without proper communication on a regular basis, conflict and competition would have been inevitable. Thus, the team in charge of implementing the House system made the difficult decision to merge the Student Council and House Committee into one.
As such, students today have to first get elected into the Council to qualify for House Committee positions. However, this implementation of a whole new system was never easy—the team had to justify their reasons of expanding the Student Council from 50 to 90 members, with former Councillors casting doubt over the reconstitution. It also took many rounds of discussion to decide on the allocation of roles among Student Councillors and House Committee members.
In retrospect, Ms Lim feels that the laborious effort put in to optimise the system initially has proved to be worth the effort in the long run, as the Student Council and House Committee now work synergistically. The Faculty system saw few, if any, bonding activities being organised to promote camaraderie, with Faculty spirit primarily being forged through the heat of battle. Today, however, the Houses strive for intra-House bonding and spirit, organising activities like House parties or games days.
‘Competition is not the only way to build House spirit. We want to highlight the fact that you can have different Houses having parties together or having events that are community-centred, such as a Buckle-Buckley community service day,’ points out Ms Lim. ‘In the process, you build a strong House culture and sense of belonging and thus from there, you build a sense of belonging to your school. It’s not just a competition-based sort of identity that we’re after, but a well-rounded one.’
Most students under the Faculty system of the past confess that they wish they had been part of a House instead. Mr Eng Han Seng (RI, 1989; RJC, 1991), who is Dean of Co-Curricular Activities, laments that the House spirit which his cohort forged in their first four years at RI was lost when they were sorted into their faculties over in RJC. Compared to students of today, Mr Eng says that the students in the past had more free time on their hands to participate in inter-Faculty activities, yet there were fewer such activities in his day.
When asked about memorable Faculty cheers, Mr Eng cheekily remarked that they were none, mainly due to the fact that ‘students in my time were not really excited about cheering “Medicine, Medicine, all the way!”’
IMAGINED (BUT NOT IMAGINARY) COMMUNITIES
Over on the Year 1–4 side of the school, inter-House rivalry continues to be as fierce as it has ever been. We caught up with two Exco members from the Year 1–4 Houses, Ryan Lim (4C, Buckley House Captain) and Nicholas Lui (4E, Bayley Vice-Captain) to find out about the issues facing the Year 1–4 Houses and where they see the Houses headed.
Weighing most heavily on Ryan’s mind was the tug of loyalty that Rafflesians experience between commitments to the House and their various other commitments. Faced with a choice between House events on the one hand and CCA or schoolwork on the other, most Rafflesians would plump for the latter. A related problem that he perceives is how ‘(House events) are spread across the year and as such, have a lessened impact on Rafflesians.’
Ryan sees a possible way forward—to ‘(concentrate) Inter- House Competitions into two or three intense weeks, instead of spreading them over the whole year.’ Beyond just allowing for greater commitment to House events, such an approach ‘would also free up much time in the other parts of the year for … House EXCOs to conduct fun and meaningful activities for House members, a step up from the current fixed House meetings we now have.’
Interestingly enough, Ryan’s observations parallel part of the thinking that informed the Year 5–6 switch from faculties to Houses—to supplement competition with camaraderie, as a means of building up House (and hence school) identity. After all, a House cannot be just about inter- House competition results. Such a result-oriented approach would be unsustainable, as it would require the perpetuation of good results for a sense of House spirit. As Nicholas puts it, ‘House spirit must go beyond medals and trophies.’
For Nicholas, a House needs to be home-like. ‘I envision Bayley becoming a place where Bayleyeans will feel at home. In this ideal Bayley, there would be a spirit of camaraderie, with seniors helping and guiding juniors in their schoolwork and other affairs.’
Such a sense of belonging is built on the notion of the House as an ‘imagined community’. It is imagined because this community is neither physically founded on geographical borders (Raffles is not that big yet) nor the constant, consistent face-to-face interaction of every member with every other member in the House. Instead, it is organically evolved from the shared experiences that members go through, ultimately forming a shared memory.
Returning to his earlier concerns Ryan shared that he sees these shared memories emerging both from competitions as well as non-competitive activities. He cites Dramafeste 2013 as his favourite House memory, but also hastens to add that ‘a House in Raffles should be a platform for students to add flavour to their experience in Raffles and have great things to look back on when they think about their Raffles journey’.
It’s a laudable vision that Rafflesian Times wholeheartedly endorses, and something which our Year 1–4 captains and Year 5–6 House Directorates are, without doubt, doing their best to realise for their fellow Rafflesians.