500 days ago in our countdown, we paid tribute to RI educators. Many of you sent in video tributes to honour the teachers who made a difference in your lives when you were students. Today, we are finally in 2023, as close as 150 days to our founding anniversary! As we mark this milestone in our countdown, let’s pay attention to our teachers again, but this time, let’s hear their voices and their hearts. Their hope and belief in the capacity of their students to do good and to excel have inspired generations of students to stay grounded, to fly high and to create waves while at school and after graduation.
Take for example the 14 January launch of our Rafflesian literary anthology, Some Dreams From Now, a collection of 70 literary works written by past and present RI students, spanning the years 1886-2021. This anthology would not have been possible without countless teachers who have, over the years, opened their students’ eyes to the power of language, crafted writing tasks, provided critical feedback and encouraged budding wordsmiths. One such teacher is Mrs Nicola Perry, who has taught English Literature for 31 years, inspiring many cohorts of A-level students, including current Head of Department for Economics, Mr Simon Quek. In fact, it was 14 of her students who worked with Theophilus Kwek (also Mrs Perry’s former student!) to shortlist the selections that eventually make up the anthology.
We asked Mrs Perry – why teach Literature? Her response: “Clichéd though it may sound, Literature is life! It sustains us by stimulating the imagination; it can enable us to create alternative realities when we need resilience; it can offer examples of options when situations become complex and, it helps us to understand not only ourselves better, but each other. With Literature we are never alone and though it cannot lessen the intensity of personal emotion, knowing others have endured the same feelings helps us navigate through difficult times. Shakespeare became my voice, my closest companion, when my own words were too raw when I had to write (and deliver) the eulogy at my father’s funeral. Drawing on the words of great writers offers comfort where otherwise there might only be despair. Teaching Literature is fundamental to who I am. It helps to provide meaning where, existentially, there is none, and playing a part in helping others to learn how to create manageable spaces has given me significance through trying to help others find theirs.”
Never underestimate how a teacher’s impact can extend beyond their own students. Mr Jarrod Lee, currently a teacher himself in RI, was Mrs Perry’s student back in 1998/99. He recounts the impact Mrs Perry made on him as a teacher: “One of the joys that a teacher can have is to be supported by his/her own teacher. Coming back to RI, I've been blessed to have had my tutors around me to help me through my idealistic and 'chaotic' beginnings. Nikki (Mrs Perry) was one such pillar of support - always kind and compassionate, willing to listen and offer advice, but never stepping away from doing the right thing. She taught me the value of loving and always giving the other person the benefit of doubt, and I can only hope to have done that for a few of the students I have taught over the years.”
Indeed, to teach is to touch the future. This phrase has great significance for all RI teachers no matter their subject discipline. All feel an immense sense of responsibility in educating bright students with the capacity to make the world a better place.
Looking ahead to 1 February, the Raffles Science Symposium is one such educational event conceptualized and organized by teachers in the belief that their students can make a better future. An annual event, it is a platform for students to learn and share their research in the fields of natural sciences, sports science and mental health science. In celebration of RI200, this year’s edition focuses on sustainability, innovation and inclusive well-being.
We asked Dr Theresa Lai, current advisor for educational development in RI, and formerly a Physics teacher, Head of Department, Dean and Deputy Principal in RI to share her thoughts on teaching science and the impact of work in science research. Her response: “I enjoyed Science from an early age and feel every child needs to know some Science (whether or not he chooses a science-related career eventually). I believe in science for democracy, so to speak – everyone needs to know some science to be an active citizen, especially in today’s world.”
Her belief in Science and research education being a great leveller and essential for knowing and shaping the world must surely have rubbed off on her former student whom she taught in 1995/96, Mr Tham Zi Sheng, who is now one of the Heads of the RI Science Department. His reason for teaching science? “Science provides us tools to understand the world around us; and Mathematics is the language which scientists use to describe our world. Even Linguistics has some science – it can be considered the ‘science of language’!” His insights into the purpose and process of a scientific education could perhaps be encapsulated in this ambigram below (source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/kelsey-phillips-think-ambigram--134896951323466112/).
“It's about seeing things from different angles and the creativity that comes out of that. This is how some people make new discoveries and achieve a breakthrough. There’s beauty too! In the symmetry.” There is beauty and humanity in thinking, learning, growing, whether in the sciences or physical education or languages or the humanities. This mission is what RI teachers hope to realise in their classrooms daily. For Dr Lai, RI’s mission and its people inspire and energise her to this day. For Mrs Perry, RI stands for Responsible Intelligence, an institution that encourages using talent and ability to contribute positively.
Both Mrs Perry and Dr Lai have in their own ways, touched the future already through the legacy of their students-turned-teachers, their students-turned-writers, their students-turned-researchers, and more.
So we asked them – if you had one message for a student of tomorrow, what would you want him/her to know? Mrs Perry: “Luck (either bad or good) plays a part in all our lives, but it’s what we choose to do with that luck, to make the most of our situations, that really counts.” Dr Lai: “Stay humble and hungry to learn, making sense of the world around you and connecting with others to make the world a better place. Learning never ends.”
With their wisdom of experience and generosity of heart, our teachers have guided us in youth. As we look ahead to RI200 and beyond, we close this brief interview with a parting shot from Mrs Perry and Dr Lai.
Q: A parting shot: a picture that represents you.
A: Mrs Perry
Embracing opportunities with RI humanities students in Sri Lanka, to make a difference.
Q: A parting shot: a picture that represents you.
A: Dr Lai
Always learning; here, doing my little bit for the environment.
Thank you to all RI teachers, past and present. As we mark 150 days to the RI Bicentennial, we honour you for inspiring the future!