Singapore's Raffles Institution should remain beacon of hope for students regardless of background, says PM Lee


About 5,000 people attended Raffles Institution's 200th anniversary celebration on May 23, 2023. - ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE, May 28 (The Straits Times/ANN): Raffles Institution (RI) should continue to exemplify Singapore’s inclusive spirit and egalitarian ethos, as well as remain a beacon of hope and opportunity for every student regardless of background, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the school marked its 200th anniversary.

“There are many good choices of schools in Singapore, and being admitted to RI is only one of the many paths to a good education,” Lee wrote in a speech that Education Minister Chan Chun Sing delivered on his behalf at RI’s Bicentennial Founder’s Day celebrations on Sunday morning.

“But RI should work hard to attract good students to join the school, and no promising student should be deterred from coming to RI because he cannot afford the fees or feels he will not fit in,” he added.

Lee did not attend the event on Sunday, as he had come down with Covid-19 earlier in the week. Chan said Mr Lee is “generally feeling okay”, but his doctors have advised him against attending mass functions for a few more days.

Besides Mr Chan, other RI alumni who attended the event included former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for National Development Desmond Lee.

About 5,000 people, including students, attended the school’s bicentennial celebration at Singapore Expo.

Lee said that over its 200-year history, RI has established a strong reputation for student leadership, academic excellence and service to Singapore.

He outlined three areas where the school can continue to excel and serve Singapore well.

The first area covers “upholding its long egalitarian tradition of gathering able and promising students from diverse backgrounds to join the school, and giving them all the opportunity to excel and inspiring them to serve”, he said.

To this end, Lee noted that RI has put in place Diversity, Inclusivity and Community Engagement (Dice) efforts since 2018.

Under its Dice initiatives, over 3,700 students from disadvantaged backgrounds have received the Raffles Scholarship.

The school has also recently broadened its Direct School Admissions (DSA) scheme to admit students who are talented in many more areas, including in Leadership and the Malay Language.

The DSA scheme recognises students’ achievements beyond just academic grades. Schools can admit student based not just on academic ability but also their talents in areas such as sports, arts or leadership.

Lee said students from over 120 primary schools entered Year 1, or Secondary 1, in RI this year – “a wider trawl than any other secondary school in Singapore”.

He said: “These important initiatives will help deserving students from different backgrounds to realise their unique potential, in line with what we want to achieve as a society – for Singapore always to be a place of opportunity, where diverse talents can grow and succeed, and where you can do well for yourself as long as you work hard, regardless of your background.”

Highlighting a number of illustrious alumni for their achievements and contributions to society, Lee exhorted Rafflesians to exemplify excellence throughout their lives, beyond their school years.

He also challenged them to define excellence not just by their personal achievements but also by their contributions to society.

“We must always remember that our achievements are not solely the result of our own efforts or talents,” he said. “Underpinning that is the entire Singapore system, which has provided every child the opportunity to grow and fulfil his or her potential.

“Whichever path in life you choose after graduating from RI, you must preserve that mission of pioneering for the greater good.”

To this end, he mentioned Rayner Loi, who co-founded Lumitics, a start-up that works to track and reduce food waste, and Dr Goh Wei Leong, who co-founded Health Serve, a charity that provides affordable medical care and social services to low-wage migrant workers.

Dr Goh was named The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year in 2017.

Frederick Yeo, RI’s principal, said the school has taken “definitive steps” to boost access to RI for talented students since the PM spoke about this in 2018.

For example, the school introduced the elective programme in Malay Language as a DSA talent domain at both Year 1 and Junior College (JC) Year 1 in recent years.

This year, RI will also introduce a new DSA domain in leadership and character at JC 1. This means that Secondary 4 students can apply to enter RI based on their leadership strengths and exemplary character through the DSA route.

Basketball – which Yeo described as a popular sport offered in many primary schools – will also be offered as a DSA at Year 1, or Secondary 1 students, this year.

Yeo also said RI will make available more learning opportunities in the school, such as the RI boarding programme, for students from other schools so both groups of students can interact at a deeper level.

Yeo said: “This has enabled us to admit more talented Malay students into RI.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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