Friday, April 20, 2007

The School Next Door

Okay, today let's take a break from physics. As you can imagine, I'm sitting here in the staff room staring at your practical worksheets and have decided not to mark them for the time being: the task is too daunting. And I'm sick of preparing for your lessons as well. Teachers need breaks too.

My time in RI was definitely the best period of my life, better than the time spent in RJC, and definitely definitely much better than time spent in NS. You will find that the friends that you make here in RI will last for a very long time, typically longer than the friends you will make in RJC. These are the people you grow up with, and the RI crowd tends to be a very weird crowd. JC is all about being "normal", being part of the mainstream culture, whereas in RI differences are very much more acceptable.

In JC you get to drop the subjects you dislike, although you must be very wary because many subjects morph into monsters. I took physics, chemistry, mathematics and further mathematics, and even though I did well, I still hate chemistry to this day. Chemistry and biology are two subjects that will rear their ugly heads over in JC, although I can see that the current Raffles Programme chemistry and biology are already gearing you towards JC style chem and bio.

Subjects like economics were very popular in my time, and is now incredibly popular, with virtually everyone taking it as their humanities, but I can't say too much about it, other than the fact that it does seem rather interesting if you are interested in all that.

As to physics and mathematics, there shouldn't be much problem. Physics is really quite manageable, because they can't push the standards up too high without bringing in higher level mathematics. Mathematics will be built on what you already know, plus some more stuff that are rather interesting, but really quite manageable. Further mathematics is problematic, but since they took that out, you don't really have to worry.

There used to be this thing called Special Papers in my time. I took two, in physics and mathematics. Nowadays, they call them H3 subjects, and from what I'm hearing many people are taking them in either math or physics. I'm not too clear on what this is really about, but special paper is just harder questions set to test your math and physics abilities in a more stringent manner, with physics incorporating some calculus (although almost every student manages to skip through this part by not answering those questions).

You will encounter really irritating subjects, like General Paper, the most useless and pretentious thing in the world. I still don't understand how they expect any of us to write anything sensible for their essays, because very often the problems that they are discussing are so complex, and so multi-dimensional that it is impossible to say anything smart about it without some good hard evidence and at least 200 pages of explanation and report.

Project work is hell. Completely pointless. You'll see what I mean. Good luck for that.

School wise, you will have to start taking your own notes, which is what I've been telling you people in class during lectures. Some periods will be lectures, where you will go to the lecture theatre and listen to the tutor teach about the topic in the subject, while others will be designated tutorials, where you will go to classrooms and discuss the questions set in the tutorials with your tutor. Nothing very new here, except that the stuff that you learn isn't going to come from the classroom, but from the lecture theatre. What you learn during the lecture is entirely up to you, and sometimes even if you don't turn up (which is illegal, of course, but I don't pretend to being an angelic student back then) they don't really care.

To tell you honestly, I used to skip school, skip classes, especially S-paper classes. But one thing that I never skipped was chemistry, because that was my worst subject. I was, and still am terrible at chemistry practical, and so those practical lessons I would definitely go. But physics and mathematics, especially S-paper, were really useless lessons.

In all, academically you are pretty much on your own. You have to learn the skills of studying by yourself to some extent, without the help of teachers to spoon-feed you notes and all, and definitely you will need to discipline yourself. You can choose not to do any of your tutorials, which is precisely what I did for physics, but at the end of the day you must get your grade.

Socially, JC is more geared towards being "cool". Although I know it sounds very silly, but that in fact is what it is. There are set behaviours and things to say that are considered normal by each class, and if you don't happen to be that particular thing, then you won't fit in. I didn't like my class, to tell you the truth, and I don't think they really liked me as well, but we were really different people. Thank god for RI friends and CCA.

Of course there's also the matter of there being girls in RJC, and well, okay, that's nice and all. But a word of advice, stay away from all those till after your NS, because I think no one is able to emotionally handle any relationship properly at that age, and under those circumstances. You know too little. I know it sounds kind of weird coming from me, and I still can remember how I resented the way other people say things like that, but once you get through NS, you will see what I mean.

Teachers, well, you won't be as close to them as you are to some of your teachers now. My class was very close to my RI teachers, and even up till now they still invite us over for Chinese New Year, or we have dinner together or something. When I came back to RI to teach after 5 years away from this school, all my old teachers could still remember my name, and other weird details associated with me. They are amazing. In RJC, you can't expect this level of closeness, because very often they spend too little time with you, and in that short window of time that they are talking to you, they are talking business.

Things are different over there, and I think some of you will adapt really well to the environment, while others will probably not. When it comes, don't be too sad if you're not "in", because there are many people out there who are like you. I think what is most frustrating about being in RJC is that people tend to forget the true purpose of being in school, which is to learn. I hope throughout the course of the time you are spending in RI you will appreciate how amazing knowledge in any field is, not only physics, and not forget that when you go to RJC, and not finish the JC course feeling uninspired and unsure of what you want to do with your life.

Because JC is the period of time that shapes your ambition and the future "you". Participate actively in CCAs (there were months when I never reached home before 8, and would lose every single Saturday to CCAs) and pursue your academics and everything else with passion. Don't get too caught up with the glamour and girls and fun associated with JC, all the socialising and going out and parties, because those are empty things in the end.

In the mean time, enjoy your time in RI. It probably doesn't get any better in the next 5 years!

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