Local Inquisition: Part One

Once again in a very long time, I have decided to write a little on local issues. Most of the time, I actually do engage in the distancing of myself from my works, even to the extent of minimizing the traces of tradition, culture and context in my works. Which can be understandable, when writing about universal truths, concepts, for example friendships, relationships, faith, and so on. And even with local influence I do not write about local things, with few exceptions (Smörgåsbord, for example). The most recent was this, on the censorship of certain books in our libraries (still taking time for this to cool down within civil society) – my more direct, straightforward examination of a local problem. But I thought I would try to explore a different sort of writing-genre in a sense, no longer too conceptual or imaginary or fictional, but much more down-to-earth, relevant to my context. I hope it helps me to also hone my skills in this area, while trying to apply my understanding of society and relational arguments to this ‘series’, my very own Local Inquisition.

In this Local Inquisition (and I am not from Spain – this is very much a humane questioning of sorts I engage in, rather), I have considered two programmes with respect to education (no surprise considering my current ‘vocation’ as student), that I wish to question and cross-examine, especially with respect to the social elements involved. These are: the Integrated Programme (IP) and the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) in Singapore. In this first part I wish to discuss the Integrated Programme.

“… those who are academically strong can benefit from engaging in broader learning experiences during their Secondary and JC years. The Integrated Programmes (IP) will provide an integrated secondary and JC education where secondary school pupils can proceed to JC without taking the GCE ‘O’ Level Examinations.”

~Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore, at this site. 

Essentially, the IP (also known as the Through-Train programme informally) is implemented in a number of (considerably academically-stronger) secondary schools (usually for 13-16 year olds here), where affiliation enables students in the IP in that school to bypass the O Level examinations at 16 (a major nationwide exams that now isn’t nationwide to a larger extent) and be placed in the affiliated Junior College (Y5-6, for 17-18 year olds). Some ‘Junior Colleges’ here are actually IP schools for 13- to 18-year-olds, and they count too. All in all, the said benefits include allowing the students more time to focus on better (broader/deeper/additional) learning (both academic and non-academic) since they need not study extensively for the O Levels. I would suppose that at an administrative level, it is much more straightforward as there is minimal work needed when ‘assigning’ the students to their JC; at a manpower and resource level, the affiliated schools are less restricted and can support each other and collaborate in many areas. The schools are more open to plan further ahead so that students get a more comprehensive (6-year) experience.

That summary in place, I will now put forth one main and simple (social) implication of the IP for schools, while giving additional information to make the point clearer. The conclusion of this point does not serve to further prove or deny the validity of the programme as a whole, since I am only examining one aspect. My point is as follows: the certainty provided by direct affiliation to a JC has an impact on the development of the community in a JC, depending on several things.

In elaborating this, it would be worthwhile to refer back to the MOE Singapore’s website as linked above, where a comprehensive index of IP schools and their JC counterparts is provided. Some JCs are only affiliated to one secondary school; some are affiliated to one (boys’) school and another (girls’ school) and sometimes more than just two schools. However the fact remains that for all these JCs they do not accept students exclusively from the IP; some enter via DSA (direct school admission, something else entirely), some via their ‘O’ level scores. This already provides undeniable grounds for an imbalance in terms of amount of experience the JC students each have with the JC. Of course, I wish not to heavily refer to a physical aspect (i.e. the JC compound) or even the academic style and so forth. Even for IP students who enter their JCs, many of these things are foreign to them. However what of the new community comprising IP students and new (‘O’ level) students? There are other groups still, of course, but these two categories make up the bulk.

Is there any issue with having a newly formed batch/community comprising these two categories? What differences do they hold? First, IP students, having been in a pre-existing community in secondary school, are rather unlike the other new students who do treat everything, in particular fellow batchmates, as foreign until known. There is a higher degree of comfort amongst IP students not just towards the school environment, programmes, ethos (all of which are part of the aim of integrating the secondary and JC), but towards the IP community. Without doubt, we therefore cannot depend on a certain social ‘tabula rasa‘, so to speak: a blank slate where everyone works towards making new friends, constructing a social network within these new boundaries and working his/her way within a new ‘world order’, so to speak. Two things to note, however. Firstly, the IP does not necessarily affect/change/shape a student’s social worldview/preconceived notions and character/predispositions/tendencies after the Secondary-JC transition; it only directly impacts the expression of all these said worldviews/predispositions. Secondly, I do not imply that non-IP programmes (or any newly given social context, for that matter) provides a social tabula rasa (in the sense of being networkless and building from scratch). Our social lives are compartmentalised into different spheres, no doubt, and experience (i.e. the JC experience) is just one method to divide it up. This therefore implies that no one sphere is entirely separate on its own since the fact that there are multiple ways to compartmentalise indicates overlap in certain areas. In this sense, we can explain prior knowledge (or the ‘coincidence’ factor). E.g. seeing your primary school friend in JC (though both of you went to separate secondary schools not affiliated in a similar manner to the JC) – the ‘primary school’ sphere of social network(s) now overlaps with this ‘JC’ sphere-in-formation. So, to summarise, the IP potentially drastically increases the distance between the ideal social ‘tabula rasa’ state (non-inclusive of prior notions, attitudes, character) for every member of the JC community, and what actually takes place.

What are the effects of this condition to both the IP students and the incoming students? While not exactly accurate on terms pertaining to whichever-field-of-study this is, I hope my following points can be made clear by perhaps inventing several phrases to describe what I hypothesize is a result. First, for the IP students: primarily, a need to manage a heavy imbalance in social construction of one’s own network such that the overall growth is neither stagnated nor biased on one side, rather reconstructed. What do I mean? In facing the two categories of students that have merged into one community, naturally one is more acquainted with, has more experiences and sentiment with, and has already built a social network with, one’s secondary school comrades, in all likelihood. With the incoming students, one then needs to decide how to respond. First, stagnate, with no growth (at best) in one’s social network. Antisocial, in a sense; choosing to continue with the ‘old world order’ – hanging out only with one’s old clique of friends. The second is less extreme, but while one does build a social network with the new friends, there is still marked disposition to the original clique. It is even possible that as one misunderstands a reconstruction of social networks, one (theoretically) attempts tabula-rasa-ing oneself, throwing the past network to the wind and trying to start again. This seems impossible and laughable, considering the function of experience and sentiment in the past network. Therefore true reconstruction is that breaking the past network entails reorganising, reprioritising one’s past network in order to integrate it into a whole new framework. Though not a true tabula rasa (as is unattainable), it attempts to draw on the best functions of a past network (rather, the individuals involved) and the best of the new environment and new avenues for developing a new network; finding how best to re-organise people, relationships, time and effort (which constitute development of a relationship) and so on.

Before talking of the problem the second category encounters, I thought of one issue, that is the partial overlapping of two secondary school spheres whose IPs both lead students to the same JC – usually, a boys’ school and a girls’ school (makes it all the more intriguing). This happens frequently because of the abovementioned savings made on resources by co-planning programmes and managing meta-programmes for the whole IP. I am aware of the possibility of an individual to construct a comprehensive social network while in secondary school, that includes students from the other school; this proves both boon and bane. Boon, that the said individual is slightly more partially integrated when in JC; bane, that other individuals proving less adept at this comprehensiveness while in sec-school will be at an ‘disadvantage’. I don’t wish to heavily elaborate on this as it is a somewhat very specific analysis; worth mention, though. Note how two IP sec-schools (plus non-IP students) adds a surprising dimension to the ‘social reworking’, in a sense yet another subset of ‘IP and non-IP’.

Second, now, for the new incoming students (non-IP). In a sense I have already covered this by contrasting sec-students who develop a network with the other IP-school with those whose network is exclusively within his/her own sec-school (or range in between). Will not explain this in great detail except by highlighting a very crucial and obvious difference in the two contrasts is the whole IP. First, whatever IP has to offer…curriculum etc.; secondly, what IP did not offer, that is, the ‘O’ level. Apart from being difference in shared experience, the two groups of students have to find their place in the futility/importance of the ‘O’ level results, now that there are those who are entirely exempt from ‘O’s, thereby rendering it less important.

I hereby conclude a 1800-word-plus long examination of the one most major social impact that the IP has on JC students (at least, in theory). I am not yet in JC and it therefore remains for me to make amendments as I gain new insights and improve old views; also, through experience will I be able to falsify certain ideas and provide reasonable grounds to stick to some. Next up, possibly the GEP.

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