By Aaron Gan (13S05A), Nguyen Trung Huan (14S05A), Wilson Chan (4A) and Shiv Jayram Khialani (4A)

With this new curriculum innovation of the Raffles Programme, Rafflesians will be able to learn, grow, and have fun—while discovering what is truly meaningful and significant to them.

What a difference one year makes. Ask a student from the batch of 2012, and he will tell you about the invaluable learning experiences he enjoyed during his last year in school. Ask a student from the batch before, and he will lament about how he did not receive that same experience. And the same reason invariably comes up—the Gap Semester.

Informally known by students and teachers alike as ‘Gap Sem’, the programme has significantly altered student life in RI. It is meant to be a time of learning away from the mundane monotony of school life, and in just its first cycle, it has become intertwined with what we would consider the quintessential ‘Raffles Experience’, even though it directly engages only an eighth of the student population. While the Gap Semester is a programme open solely to Year 4 Rafflesians, practically the whole institution has become aware of its existence.

Fire.Batik.Paradise: Getting to Know Indonesia
Fire.Batik.Paradise: Getting to Know Indonesia
The Denmark Experience
The Denmark Experience

Practically, the Gap Semester is an expanded yet also more focused version of the earlier Differentiated Modules Programme (DMP), with one term set aside exclusively for Year 4 students to attend four categories of extra-curricular courses. Whereas DMP offered only in-school enrichment courses, Gap Semester crucially includes student-initiated, work attachment and (highly-anticipated) international courses.

DMP vs Gap Semester: A Comparison Chart

DIFFERENTIATED MODULES PROGRAMME GAP SEMESTER
3 weeks long 9 weeks long
Before the EOYs After the EOYs
No international or work attachment courses except for Overseas Immersion Programme Has international and work attachment courses
Limited range of courses
Generally conducted in-house by school teachers
Expanded range of courses
Involvement of a range of external trainers and agencies
N/A Dedicated corporate portal/website

GAP SEMESTER 2012: TWO THUMBS UP

The longer period of time for the Gap Semester also allows students to deepen their experience in the Gap Semester, instead of just being a fleeting period of ‘non-academic’ pursuits. Also, the Gap Semester takes place after the final examinations for the Year 4s, ensuring that this time is focused mainly on enrichment, instead of being utilised to study for the examinations. As a result, this gives Rafflesians more of an opportunity to actually learn and experience new things, as the clash in priorities, which usually stymies us from being able to take advantage of the once-in-a lifetime opportunities offered, is taken out of the equation.

Just going online to access the Gap Semester web portal was an experience in and of itself. There was a staggering array of courses and attachments on offer, all packaged in well-designed website. To Year 4 RI boys, the Gap Semester did not only present a new and exciting learning opportunity, but also breathed air and life into a Raffles Programme weighed down by the demands of routine academic work.

It gave Rafflesians an opportunity to rest and relax, and take a break from the frenetic pace of student life that is a defining characteristic of the RI school environment.

Yeo Ping Chong (14S03A) volunteered for three weeks at the Little Wings kindergarten as part of his Gap Semester
Yeo Ping Chong (14S03A) volunteered for three weeks at the Little Wings kindergarten as part of his Gap Semester

But what Gap Semester really translated into was experience that we cannot usually get through just reading our textbooks, or mugging. After all, how can one ever appreciate the rich culture and heritage surrounding the Silk Road by simply learning about it in an air-conditioned classroom? Or really find out what it takes to be a lawyer, banker, or doctor, short of shadowing and interacting with real-life professionals?

MINDING THE GAP

With the second edition of Gap Semester due to kick-off as this magazine goes to print, the first batch of participants believe that the stories of the programme this year should be recorded down more rigorously. Such sentiment comes from their feedback towards their own experience with the Gap Semester in 2012. To paraphrase most of the students whom we interviewed, ‘the stories of the very first group of Rafflesians who attended Gap Semester were worth being published in books.’

The generally excellent organisation of the Gap Semester was slightly marred by the inadequate thought given to the reflection process. The reflection corner on its online portal, for instance, felt more like a place to coordinate responses between students and teachers.

Also, the three-day Gap Semester Congress also could not fully capture the nine-week journey of any student. For some, the Congress was not totally a useful method to share their experience. They found that the oral presentation was unable to help them deliver the content they wish to share. ‘It’s rather nerve-wrecking to present in front of an audience who is much older than you,’ Gao Shan Sam (14S06F) said, ‘even though you’re familiar with your content!’ As a result, many interesting stories were lost on the audience.

When asked how Gap Semester Committee could further improve the process of collecting feedback from students, Derick Chen (14S05A) suggested setting up a website that ‘allows seniors to pass down experiences to the juniors’.

Joseph Hoon (14S05A) shared, ‘The most meaningful Gap Sem experience I had was the three-week stint that a friend and I initiated, which involved volunteering at the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) office in Changi with the Yellow Ribbon Project. It changed my outlook on the ex-offenders—it let me see them as individuals who loved, who hoped, and who had to live with their fears just as we do…Witnessing how broken many of them were brought them beyond just another group of people that I knew needed help but who were always at the back of my mind.’ However, Joseph also agreed that his experiences were not ‘thoroughly recorded’.

GAP SEMESTER 2013: WHAT’S UP

Briefings for Gap Semester 2013 got underway at the end of last year, with students of the new batch ready to experience a remodelled and refreshed learning process. Things got underway with introductory briefings to the whole concept of a ‘Gap Semester’ and the registration for Self-Initiated Courses (SICs) in Term 3 last year.

The Year 3s we spoke to greatly welcomed the continuation of the self-initiated courses, which empowers keen and interested students to scout out attachment opportunities matching their specific interests. Judging from the overwhelming response, a large number of Rafflesians were enthusiastic about pursuing their interests in their own creative and meaningful ways.

Unsurprisingly, research programmes and attachment to mentors from the National University of Singapore dominate the SICs that have been initiated; coming in a close second are community-oriented SICs.

Such sentiment also stems from the fact that many younger students, after attending the Gap Semester Congress last year, learnt about the fun (and not-so-fun) discoveries and experiences that their seniors had undergone in their journeys. From Bryan Chua’s (14A01A) self-initiated course on golf, to the sharing of the service-learning trip to Bhutan (‘an eye-opener’), last year’s Year 3s were adequately persuaded that no interest was too wild to pursue, or too time-demanding to aspire towards.

Furthermore, there were some changes made to the administrative process that sought to make the process of allocating Rafflesians to their Gap Semester courses more transparent. The most obvious change to the selection process was the introduction of interviews for all international and work attachment courses, instead of conducting a ballot for a majority of the courses on offer. This has made matters clearer and fairer, especially since most felt that the luck of the draw should not be the determining factor in choosing the most suitable candidates for a course.

However, it would seem that some courses are widely preferred than others. We found out, for instance, that ‘Fire.Batik. Paradise’, a course in which students would have visited two vastly different locations in West Java—Surabaya and Bali, was so undersubscribed it had to be cancelled. In comparison, ‘Sweden: 13-day Environmental Sustainability Programme’ was oversubscribed by a factor of four. This is inevitable, but it begs the question of whether Rafflesians are picking courses on the basis of interest, or if they are being unduly influenced by the location of particular courses, deeming some countries more interesting than others.

Découvrez les Mathématiques—An Unparalleled Mathematical Experience in France
Découvrez les Mathématiques—An Unparalleled Mathematical Experience in France

The Gap Semester is certainly a milestone in the evolution of the Raffles Programme. Prior to the Year 4 batch of 2012 going through the first-ever Gap Semester, there has never been any such programme officially incorporated into academic curriculum across the country, let alone this institution. Many of the current Year 4 students are clearly looking forward to Gap Semester 2013—we hope that they have taken into account the feedback received from the previous batch and wish them a most enjoyable, enriching time!

Below, we pick out our three favourite Gap Semester 2013 offerings:

Heaven to HellHistory buffs will appreciate this international trip to understand Man’s ideas and knowledge and its impact on the world. With Science, Art, Religion and History interwoven seamlessly, students are immersed in a natural and complete learning experience. Students get to visit Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance; Berlin, where the Holocaust Memorial Museum stands today; Auschwitz, most infamous of all Nazi concentration camps; and Vienna, where they can interact with students from the Karl Popper School for the Gifted.
Real MadridRI and Real Madrid’s partnership is in the news already; those lucky sports stars (unlike the writers of this article) will attend the RI-Real Madrid customised one-week programme to understand the culture and sports in Spain. Participants will travel to Spain and train at Real Madrid’s facilities, watch live matches at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium and feel the vibrancy of Madrid, the capital city of Spain. They will also visit the Real Madrid University and Sports Science centres to understand the importance of the sports science programmes in the development of excellence in sports.
For those keen on experiencing what it’s like to work in a busy and iconic arts centre, a customised internship will be negotiated based on the students’ interest and abilities and matched to the programmes at The Esplanade Theatres in the duration of the internship. For example, interns in the Front-of-House department will be exposed to a range of service operations such as customer service management, event preparation, cloakroom management and ushering duties among others. During larger festivals, interns could also be attached to Artist Liaison Officers where they will learn how the Esplanade hosts and meets the needs of international and regional programmes.
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