By Izzat Rashad Rosazizi (3T) and Sheikh Izzat B Z-A Bahajjaj (3C)
As the oldest student leadership body in Singapore’s oldest school, the Raffles Institution Prefectorial Board (RIPB) counts among its alumni a host of ministers, CEOs and key players in the world of business. But as the world enters a new era of systems and technology, how has the RIPB altered its ways and ideals as a student leadership body? Have there been any tectonic shifts in how the RIPB functions and understands itself, or have the values and principles that shaped the Board’s purpose when it was established back in the school’s Bras Basah Road days remained largely unchanged?
We caught up with two Head Prefects, Mr Jai Singh (Head Prefect 1971, current Research Education Teacher) and Jason Cheong (3C, Head Prefect 2013-2014) to contrast and juxtapose the RIPB’s past with its present-day incarnation.
The RIPB’s functions seem by and large to have remained constant—both Mr Singh and Jason concurred that the RIPB’s key foci are school spirit and discipline. Its internal structure, however, has been more fluid—whereas it was run as a single unit in Mr Singh’s time, in 2001, a five-department system (Human Resource, Communication, Welfare, the Discipline Board and Gryphon’s Committee) was introduced. This was in turn re-simplified to 2 branches—‘Spirits’ and ‘Standards’—as recently as 2012.
Under these two branches, there are various sub-departments that oversee different areas pertaining to the RIPB. For instance, the ‘Spirits’ branch handles issues ranging from the Gryphon’s Lair and match support to the Raffles Merchandise series. The ‘Standards’ branch tackles more discipline-related issues, such as the booking systems and ‘restorative support’ for students with disciplinary issues. According to Jason, ‘the simplified system was created in the hope that we could serve as role models of character, who inspire and rally the school in order to forge a united Rafflesian community, one that we can all be proud of.’
Prefects in Mr Singh’s time functioned more independently, and mainly worked based on their own discretion and jurisdiction. This was partly because the school was less well-resourced—today’s prefects have the benefit of training camps, leadership discussion sessions, leadership forums and courses to enhance their skills. There was only one Prefect Master in the past, unlike today, where there are five teachers in charge of the RIPB. These teachers (Mr Low June Meng, Ms Imelda Chang, Ms Ng Geck Woon, Dr Raphael Iluyomade Funwa, and Mr Tan Yan Li) help the current prefects in their organisation of the new dual-branched RIPB.
While the reshuffle has gained the approval of many students, teachers and prefects, there is still a handful that remains sceptical of the merits of the RIPB’s recent transformation. In response, Jason asks that this potential group of sceptics give the system some time, and adds that there were numerous long-term goals for the RIPB in mind while the new plans were being formulated. Quoting Jason, ‘without change, we might never know what even better things we could accomplish as a Prefectorial board.’
The Prefectorial Board’s role in the school is to set standards and maintain the discipline of the student populace. In Mr Singh’s day as Head Prefect, the prefects had to meet and talk to repeat offenders in groups during sessions known as Detention Boards. Punishment would also be meted out via Detention Classes. Order among the students was maintained mainly due to the stigma that came with having to be called up for these offences.
Today, the RIPB is more inclined towards having prefects lead the way by being role models themselves, thereby inspiring their peers to be on their best conduct and observe the school rules. Prefects now record down the names of students that break the school rules in the Offence Record System and speak with the student in person to discover the reasons behind his actions. Repeat offenders are sent for Restorative Support (RS) sessions where they would be counselled individually by prefects, as opposed to just giving them a warning slip.
Another key aim of the RIPB of Mr Singh’s era was to nurture and sustain the school spirit, although there were far fewer opportunities to express this, as ‘significantly fewer events were held’ in his time. Interschool matches thus became the high points of school life, with almost the entire school turning up for match support. This was especially prevalent during rugby finals, when Rafflesians from the old Bras Basah campus would rush down to the adjacent Padang to support the ruggers.
Recalling how tense and competitive those matches were, Mr Singh shares that supporters had to be kept separated along clearly demarcated lines to prevent fights from occurring. ‘Feelings ran high when we faced traditional rivals like St Andrew’s in rugby, St Joseph’s in football, and Anglo Chinese School in Track & Field. Often, class dismissals had to be staggered in order to prevent fights, scuffles and brawls from breaking out amongst the students.’
Even though Raffles’ current opponents in sports such as rugby, track and even soccer are virtually identical to those from four decades ago, long gone are the days of fights and brawls between opposing schools’ students. Rafflesians’ participation in these national finals is mostly limited to cheering and supporting their teams from the stands.
In this sense, the prefect’s role today has become less of maintaining ‘Standards’ by preventing fights and brawls between the student spectators but more of trying to invoke ‘Spirit’ in Rafflesians by rallying the school and leading their peers in cheering for the school.
Fast forward 40 years, and the changed context of Singaporean education has made the lives of Rafflesians far busier with added commitments and an increased workload. Add to this the far greater number of games being played, and it comes as little surprise that the school spirit seems somewhat tamer as compared to previous times.
The RIPB has thus felt the need to invoke greater spirit in the student populace and has designated ‘Match Support’ as one of the sub-departments under the Spirit branch of the new and improved Board. Classes are assigned to support the school at competitions and the rest of the student populace is also strongly encouraged to make their presence felt in grand finals or other crucial season matches. Jason says, ‘We do see the Rafflesian Spirit; it is there. We just want to see it more often.’
BEYOND SPIRITS AND STANDARDS
Two larger challenges await the RIPB. The first is the difficult-but-not-impossible task of safeguarding the school’s culture of a healthy respect for diversity Mr Singh observes, ‘Although the school is less diverse today than it was previously in terms of socioeconomic diversity, we are seeing many more students of other nationalities.’ The RIPB needs to figure out what role it can play in helping integrate RI’s non-Singaporean students fully into the life of the school?
Perhaps more challenging is the issue of how best to continue the push towards a vision of ‘One Raffles’—what Jason describes as ‘a school that is united and embraces its diversity as one Rafflesian family’—that was first begun with RI’s re-integration with RJC in 2009. How does it foster a wider identification between both wings of the school, and in so doing, restore the school to some semblance of its pre-1982 self? Might this involve more interaction between the RIPB and its Year 5–6 counterpart, the Students’ Council?
The dog that sits atop the RIPB crest has weathered the test of time; we are confident of its ability to prove the age-old adage that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ wrong. In this age of rapid change, the faithful RIPB canine is learning the new tricks of the trade it needs to keep up and remain relevant to today’s generation.