Written by: Aaron Wong (21-I4), Jaime Rusli (EJC), Nicole Won (EJC), Yeo Rei Ya (EJC)
Picture this; you’re standing in a large crowd with dozens of other unfamiliar faces, and you’re being instructed to learn some sort of strange cheer or dance with them. You’re tripping over your words, or maybe even yourself, as your brain struggles desperately to clutch onto directions being explained at breakneck speeds. All of you put in so much effort to learn these things together, even when you’re not in the same orientation group or class. Other than being enrolled in the same school, you have nothing in common with most of them, and barely know any of their names. The only thing you all have in common is your matching, brightly coloured T-shirts that would put the high visibility vests of construction workers to shame. You’re all in the same House. That simple fact stirs something deep in your heart, but you’re not sure why.
In a daunting new environment where multitudes of people hail from different tribes, the Houses stick up from this landscape as tall, permanent towers for people to converge at. They give their members a sense of belonging and identity, boosting the school spirit through student engagement in closely knit communities. By dividing the student body into different Houses, the House system, quite astonishingly, unites the school. How is this achieved? Before that question is answered, let’s get acquainted with who the players of the game are!
In Eunoia Junior College, the five Houses are Akila, Eder, Isami, Ora and Uzuri. Each House corresponds to a vowel found within the school’s name, symbolically representing the interconnectedness of the Houses and how they coherently gel together to form one Eunoian identity. A year before Eunoia was established in 2017, the pioneering staff was already working closely with the pioneering student cohort to conceptualise the House system. In 2017, the first batch of student leaders created the House mascots, taking inspiration from the constellations associated with each House’s name. A deliberate decision was made to embed classes into the House system (students in the same class are also in the same House) as opposed to following a faculty-based system (students in the same class belong to different Houses). Ultimately, the House system was crafted as an important step towards establishing a strong sense of college identity in the newly budding college.
From left to right: Akila, Eder, Isami, Ora and Uzuri. Credits: Images by Eunoia Junior College via https://eunoiajc.moe.edu.sg/culture/houses/
Meanwhile, in Raffles Junior College, the five Houses are Moor-Tarbet, Buckle-Buckley, Morrison-Richardson, Bayley-Waddle and Hadley-Hullett. Each House is an amalgamation of its predecessors in Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls’ School. The Houses are named after former headmasters, headmistresses and key figures of the two secondary schools, reflecting their rich history. The current JC House system was established in 2005, replacing the previous faculty system whereby students were sorted into Houses by their subject combinations. The House system was established with the intention of fostering a sense of community and encouraging students to make the best of their two transient years in JC beyond academic pursuit and “grade-chasing”. Unlike in Eunoia, a class in Raffles contains students of different Houses. Indeed, while Raffles has indeed existed far longer than its youthful cousin, Eunoia, the establishment of its House culture tells a similar tale; one of fostering identity and school pride!
From left to right: Moor Tarbet, Buckle Buckley, Morrison Richardson, Bayley Waddle and Hadley Hullett. Credits: Images by Raffles Institution via http://www.ri.edu.sg/school-life/houses
Though unique in their own ways, both the Eunoia and Raffles House systems aim to foster a sense of identity and promote bonding among students. Providing opportunities for student leadership and talent development, it tints a rainbow of colours onto the otherwise dull life of a student, allowing the student to leave the college with a newfound sense of pride for the House he was gladly able to call his. In this Op-Ed, four curious minds (i.e. us!) seek to unpack the true value of the culture the students hold dearly and how it shapes their various experiences in their respective schools.
In their capable hands, our House experience is practically as safe as Houses!
In Eunoia, each House is led by a House Master and House Mistress, roles that are assigned to two teaching staff, and a House committee. The House committee includes; the House captain, House vice-captains, House representatives and sports representatives.
There is one House captain and two vice-captains who take on the helm of leadership in the House. These three positions are contested through an election process, the House captain candidates campaign concurrently with the student council candidates as one must be in the student council before they are elected as House captain, however this is not the case for vice-captains. Hence, the student council and House committee function independently in Eunoia.
There are six House representatives and six sports representatives, two respectively from each class under a House. These representatives scale-down the platform of House culture and lead each class in participating in House activities, further enforcing House culture in everyday school life. The House representatives’ role is exclusively limited to House-related activities, while sports representatives are engaged in both House activities and sports activities; namely Physical Education lessons due to the overlap between the two. This is due to many of such events being sporting in nature.
House events usually involve sports as it is an activity that is enjoyable and lighthearted but at the same time contains a competitive element to it. Hence, by making House events centered around sports, it can provide both relaxation and excitement to the students who are usually fixated on academics. Involving mostly team sports in House events also helps improve cohesion amongst Housemates as they strive towards a common goal of winning in the name of their House.
On the other hand, the Houses in Raffles are part of the Student Council, which is the democratically elected body of students that oversee the running of different school-based events and initiatives. This is interesting to note as it is one of the most salient differences between the House systems in Eunoia and Raffles. According to Zin, the House captain of Morrison-Richardson, the House leadership system is a subset of Council because House is “part of a larger, more-encompassing school spirit that includes uniquely Rafflesian experiences”. Indeed, the House system plays an indispensable role in enhancing the diversity and depth of the Rafflesian school experience.
All members of the House Directorate, fondly termed “House Dee”, have to be elected as Councillors before taking on their roles. Upon their induction into Council, they are offered different departments to choose from, such as Welfare, Communications, CCA, and of course, House. The five House Dees are helmed by the Vice President of Houses from the Student Council. Within each House Dee, there are approximately seven members, and they are led by a captain and two vice captains. The Captains are entrusted with the important role of setting the direction of House together with the Vice President, while overseeing the activities and initiatives of each House.
Throughout the school year, there are regular House events organised with the aim of cultivating a stronger sense of belonging to House in each student, as well as to provide alternative avenues beyond class and CCA for students to bond. Similar to Eunoia, House events almost always involve the element of earning House points, adding a thrilling element of friendly competition and stakes to House. These large-scale events, which all House Dee members are engaged in, are targeted at the wider school population.
Excitement and action that never fails to bring down the House!
In Eunoia, Orientation and annual sporting events such as Road Run are a joint effort between the House committee and Student Council. During Orientation, J1s are inducted into their respective Houses through various activities such as the House Walk-In, a grand showcase of the enthusiasm and energy of each House as the House Captains, along with other J2 House members, perform spectacular live dance performances. The end of Orientation culminates in a rave where all the different Houses get together for a mass dance session of the different House dances. The annual Road Run is another highly anticipated event, a school-wide run where students from each House compete in running either four or five kilometres.
Other events include the House armour showcase where House members work together to design and eventually create suits of cardboard armour to represent each House, Euplay which allows students to try out different sports, as well as other exclusive activities that vary across Houses.
In Raffles, the House Dee, in conjunction with Council, organises Orientation and Homecoming, two of the most prominent school-wide events in RI. During Orientation, J1s are sorted into Orientation groups based on their Houses. The House is thus regarded as a platform for new students to befriend their new peers through activities such as learning House cheers and House history. The Orientation Dance-Off between members of each House, being one of the most exciting segments of the entire Orientation week, never fails to excite the J1s and fills them with a sense of pride for their new House. House events inject life and an element of fun into the otherwise largely academic-oriented school life of students.
Other events include House Week, Raffles Got Talent, Homecoming Live Gameshow and Spirit Week House Day, which are some of the most anticipated events in the calendar of the Rafflesian school year.
To investigate the roles of House culture in both EJC and RJC, we conducted an online survey of over 80 people from both colleges. So, what are their honest thoughts?
Overall, a whopping 75% of the students feel that Houses are significantly important to JC life, suggesting that Houses are indeed an integral, tangible part of the JC experience and not just seemingly nice ideas on paper. However, a small minority of the respondents believes that Houses are unimportant. This shows how the House system, like any other initiative set up in an institution, is unable to achieve its goal for every single student. House culture may not be of such high importance to every student due to their personal perceptions of what they find valuable.
Similarly, while about 70% of the students believe themselves to personally have high House spirit, suggesting that most of the student body is enthusiastic about House culture, a minority ranked their own House spirit lowly. We postulate that this could be due to the predominantly sporty nature of House events, something that may not appeal as much to those who are less sports-inclined, or alternatively, the perception that one needs to be wildly and outwardly expressive, or “rah-rah”, in order to have high House spirit. The good news for all of our more introverted peers out there is that this notion may not be necessarily true when you think about the lower intensity, calmer House events like movie nights and study sessions out there!
Moving to the macroscale, when asked how they would rank House spirit in their schools on the whole, while some respondents do not personally feel an affinity towards House culture, they reported that the House culture amongst their fellow schoolmates and student populus as a whole as higher than their individual scores. This can be attributed to the prevalence of House culture in social media posts and in the school environment, which further strengthens the sense of belonging. Thus, despite whether one personally enjoys House culture or not, the respondents seem to mostly report House culture in their respective schools to be higher in general.
When asked to rank their agreement to the statement ‘My House gives me a sense of identity and pride’, an overwhelming majority (90%) of respondents ranked their agreement highly. This suggests that dividing the students into smaller communities helps foster a greater sense of unity within the House, which further strengthens their House pride and contributes to the overall school spirit. It may seem like a paradox; how does dividing the student populus promote school unity? The House system has achieved success in this aspect as it has been effective in providing students with a platform to interact and befriend their peers. Houses create a conducive environment for bonding and fostering relationships as batchmates form bonds in the smaller, tight-knit community of one’s House. The House system also unites students with a shared goal throughout the numerous House events. Competition between Houses is lighthearted and fun as students experience friendly rivalry instead of bitter animosity. In this way, inter-House camaraderie eventually extends naturally to the rest of the whole school. Whoever invented the phrase, “a house divided cannot stand”, has obviously not seen what the House system in our two schools have accomplished!
In summary, the camaraderie and identity generated by House culture is not a mistake, but rather the result of the careful and deliberate design of the pioneering students and teachers behind them. In addition, House culture is not a final, finished product. Instead, it is an ever-evolving experience shaped by generations of students; constantly reiterated and built upon by fresh batches of students again and again. With each passing year, the roots of House culture grow ever so deeper, its branches widen and its great canopy rises as the shared experiences of its members grow.