Boarding programme: Living with peers

More local students are staying in hostels to learn how to live independently

Secondary 4 students Teh Hong Yi (left) and Irving de Boer, both 16, in their room at Hwa Chong Institution Boarding School. HCI student Dragon Chew, 16, is one of 20 Secondary 4 students who chose to continue staying at the boarding school after a s
HCI student Dragon Chew, 16, is one of 20 Secondary 4 students who chose to continue staying at the boarding school after a stint last year. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Secondary 4 students Teh Hong Yi (left) and Irving de Boer, both 16, in their room at Hwa Chong Institution Boarding School. HCI student Dragon Chew, 16, is one of 20 Secondary 4 students who chose to continue staying at the boarding school after a s
Secondary 4 students Teh Hong Yi (left) and Irving de Boer, both 16, in their room at Hwa Chong Institution Boarding School.

Hostel dormitories in secondary schools and junior colleges here mostly cater to international students from regional countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and China.

In recent years, however, more local students have been spotted in these hostels, folding their clothes or cleaning their rooms as they learn to live independently under boarding programmes introduced by several schools offering the Integrated Programme (IP).

At least four IP schools have these boarding programmes, lasting from 10 weeks to a year. Fees range from about $350 to $700 for four weeks.

In 2007, then Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced a boarding scheme for Singaporean students to encourage schools to produce all-round stronger individuals with more appetite for intellectual exploration.

He said then: "A close-knit and familial learning environment allows for meaningful interactions among students from different social and cultural backgrounds. It also instils a sense of social responsibility in students as they learn to look after one another."

Since then, several schools have expanded their boarding programmes, citing positive feedback and growing demand from students who favour not just the convenience of staying close to school, but also the camaraderie and opportunities for experiential learning.

The NUS High School of Mathematics and Science's compulsory boarding programme was started for all Year 5 students in 2008, with about 150 to 170 students joining it a year.

Besides offering them the chance to acquire life skills such as cooking, ironing, doing the laundry and cleaning, it also provides a conducive environment for students to complete their advanced research projects, a graduation requirement for all NUS High students, said a spokesman.

Since then, "a handful" of students from each Year 5 cohort have chosen to extend their stay as they want to stay closer to the school and participate in the programmes.

Alumni have also said that the year spent at the boarding school has "equipped the boys with skills to cope better during their national service days and has made the transition to university life easier for the girls", said NUS High.

Ms Lim Guat Ha, the head of Nanyang Girls' Boarding School, said the school's four-week boarding programme for Secondary 2 students has evolved since it began in 2011.

"The idea was to expose them to the international boarders here, and let them learn a bit of independence away from home," she said.

Previously, students did not go through the programme with all their classmates. Since last year, the whole class has gone for the programme at the same time. They are allowed to pair up with a student of their choice and share a room with another pair.

While it is not compulsory, every year, over 90 per cent of the school's Sec 2 students take part in the programme.

Every week, time is allocated for small group sessions comprising 12 to 14 students each in which students discuss and reflect on personal goals or their boarding experience. International students are invited to join the sessions, allowing both groups a chance to get to know one another better on top of day-to-day interactions at the dining hall and common areas.

There are two excursions - to Pulau Ubin and Little India - but with a new spin. Students plan their own itinerary for an evening excursion to Little India, and make their own travel arrangements.

Besides trekking and kayaking on a one-day trip to Pulau Ubin, they are also expected to plan their own meals and map out their route during the trek to the Chek Jawa wetlands by using available signs.

Interest in the boarding programmes at Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) and Raffles Institution (RI), has grown over the years.

At HCI, a one-year programme was piloted in 2008 involving 50 Sec 3 and 4 students. Students now board for only 20 weeks.

The programme caters mainly to Sec 3 students. This year, about 180 of them have joined the programme, up from around 100 in 2013, said Dr Joseph Tan, the director of HCI's boarding school.

In 2008, the Raffles Leadership Programme (Boarding) started as a trial, with 54 student leaders. It is now a full-cohort programme for Year 3 students, lasting 10 weeks.

The programmes are rotated so that students take turns to stay at the boarding school. This ensures there is enough space for everyone.

The schools have special areas of focus. At HCI, skills that the boarding programme aims to develop include entrepreneurial skills and leadership qualities.

Students attend evening programmes for around two hours each week, and can opt for additional electives. They can attend dinner sessions with alumni, held thrice a term, to learn about the alumni's entrepreneurship experiences.

RI's boarding scheme has an emphasis on leadership development, community education and self-development.

Next term, RI will start a joint residential leadership programme with 22 students from other schools in the cluster. Student leaders from Bishan Park Secondary, Peirce Secondary, Guangyang Secondary and Whitley Secondary will join RI students in their boarding programme, working together on community projects such as home refurbishment for residents of rental units.

"The purpose is to create inclusivity and opportunities for students from various schools to work on projects," said a spokesman, adding that the pilot may be extended to more non-RI students if it is well-received.

Separately, the Ministry of Education has a Boarding Awards Scheme, which allows Singaporean students whose parents work or live overseas to stay in hostels here, thus enabling students to continue their studies in Singapore. About 50 students are now on this scheme, double that of when it was first introduced in 1998.

Ethan Wong, a Sec 2 student at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), has been staying in the school hostel since the start of this year. His family is now in Australia as his father, an acting managing director, was posted there in 2014.

"There are many friends at the boarding school and I'm never alone. I have learnt to be more independent," he said.

His mother, housewife Agnes Yang, 40, said: "We felt it would be a big waste to give up (the opportunity to stay at the hostel) as the overseas posting is for only about two years and we didn't wish to disrupt his education here."

Making friends with those from other classes, schools

Ashvin (centre) said doing schoolwork in the boarding programme was more efficient with roommates to help. He is pictured with fellow students (from left) Joel Chan, Dylan Tan, Muhammad Dhafer and Low Yan Hao. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

At Raffles Institution (RI), students take lessons on skills such as cooking, or how to get along with roommates, said Mr Low June Meng, head of leadership and character education at RI.

They learn these life skills during their 10-week boarding programme in their third year.


Learning to care, share and compromise

The boarding programme taught Nanyang Girls' High students (left to right) Huimei, Elizabeth, Bin Bin and Yang Shixuanto be more independent and responsible. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

"There was a group that used the money allocated to them to buy too many snacks like potato chips at the start, and in the end they didn't have enough left over for dinner," Secondary 2 student Yan Bin Bin recalled laughingly.

But the students have fond memories of that excursion, which, in line with their boarding experience, has taught them more about being independent and responsible.


'A challenge' to mentor other students

Secondary 4 students Teh Hong Yi (left) and Irving de Boer, both 16, in their room at Hwa Chong Institution Boarding School. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

While the boarding scheme is mainly for Secondary 3 students, it has been extended to some in Sec 4 and junior college in recent years. This year, 20 Sec 4 students signed up to return as mentors - the highest number so far.

Teh Hong Yi, 16, a "cluster captain" - a senior who guides about 15 to 18 Sec 3 juniors living in a cluster in the same block - said it was a good opportunity to get some perspective. "Last year, we came in as boarders, so our responsibility was just restricted to ourselves. I realised that it's actually quite a hassle having to take care of 16 other boarders, but I suppose you can take it as a challenge," he said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline Boarding programme: Living with peers. Subscribe