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Principal addresses concerns in interview with TOC. By Choo Zheng Xi.

TOC Interview – Consultation process is in place: Raffles principal

Choo Zheng Xi / Editor-in-Chief

In an interview with TOC, Mrs Lim Lai Cheng, the principal of Raffles Junior College highlighted what she called the ‘wide ranging stakeholder consultations’ the Raffles schools have conducted over the last year.

Mrs Lim was specifically addressing an earlier TOC article highlighting views from students and alumni who felt the consultation process was not thorough enough. (See here).

‘We started in April, holding separate feedback groups and discussions spanning the three Raffles Schools, with teachers, students and alumni. We called in an external facilitator to gather the feedback to ensure objectivity and I made it a point not to address the groups directly.’

‘Closer to the date, around August, we asked for more opinions from student leaders, parents committees and the Old Rafflesians Association. Before we sent our first press release out, we made sure we made the announcement in school, and sent the parents a letter informing them of the change. Information to the press was embargoed until we had told all our stakeholders, so the press knew last’.

Consultations continued after the 13th October announcement of merger to the press, in the form of an email asking for feedback on the change.

‘I even stayed back in the evenings in school over the exam period to talk to students and parents about the merger, and hung around the canteen during breaks asking students what they felt about the merger. I didn’t receive any negative feedback, apart from operational concerns’.

So why are there 2,200 members of a Facebook group set up to oppose the merger?

‘Not everyone on the group opposes the merger. Many are there for information from the dialogues we’ve been holding, which we’ve allowed the group leaders to publish. Actually, even I am on the group, together with my corporate communications team’.

Mrs Lim said she proactively tried to organize a separate dialogue session on the 24th October for the concerned Facebook group organizers after seeing them around school, but only a handful turned up.

Back to the future

Going into depth about the benefits the merger would bring, Mrs Lim said:

‘The merger is primarily to allow us to form a joint legal entity that will help us pool our resources. Most immediately, merger will allow us to have a better sense of our student’s academic needs under the current six-year Integrated Programme. We can also reach out to the students earlier in terms of electives and co-curricular activities.’

But some have questioned whether the schools would be sacrificing their identity for administrative efficiency.

In the interview, Mrs Lim pointed out that the merger would achieve the school’s long term strategic vision.

‘More importantly, with a six year programme, alumni will be anchored to a bigger community. There are many possibilities when these strong institutions come together. There are many other exciting long term strategic initiatives that we have in mind, but I’m currently not ready to share these with the press yet.’

Furthermore, she noted, the merger would not be “de-historicizing” the schools. In fact, placed in its historical context, a unified Raffles Institution has always been on the cards.

‘Since the pre-University classes left RI in 1981, there’s always been a hope that the Institution will come back together. When Raffles Institution went independent and moved in 1990, they actually chose Bishan because it was a site that would be big enough to accommodate a future joint campus with Raffles Junior College. When RJC moved to Bishan three years ago, this set the stage for closer collaboration with RI, especially over the integrated programme’.

Identities to be retained

The individual identities of the schools will be retained as far as possible, Mrs Lim maintained. The official name of the merged institution will be “Raffles Institution”, while the usage of the ‘junior college’ suffix will be for operational purposes.

‘Currently the name change to Raffles Institution (Secondary) is an operational one to distinguish it from the Junior College. Eventually, the school as a whole will be collectively known as Raffles Institution, although we’re going to retain the ‘Junior College’ name for as long as we need, for sentimental purposes’. (Clarification from RJC - Nov 13: “The college would like to clarify that with effect from 1 Jan 2009, the merged institution will be known as ‘Raffles Institution’.”)

Keeping traditions such as the position of the headmaster was also negotiable, Mrs Lim said.

She added that there are ‘no plans to change the school song’ to reflect the new school’s co-ed makeup.

While decisions on ‘operational matters’ such as maintaining traditions can be sought through consultation with the student body, Mrs Lim was clear that strategic decisions such as merging of both schools was ‘not something that can be decided by cohort’.

‘People are naturally uncomfortable with change, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be rational about the benefits it will bring’.

As for those who might still be unhappy over the merger? Mrs Lim had this to say:

‘Adapting to this change won’t be easy, but talking it through will definitely help. My door is always open’.

Feedback on the merger can be forwarded to [email protected]

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