Our Deputy Principal of Academic Studies (Year 1-4): Who is he?

By Asnith and Elijah (Raffles Publications)


What does our new Deputy Principal of Academic Studies (Year 1-4) have to say to us?

Recently, we at RPUBs conducted an exclusive interview with the Deputy Principal of Academic Studies, or DPAS of RI. Join us as we explore his hopes for the school and how he views the recent changes that have shaken our learning experiences.

Who is the DPAS and what does he do?

Mr Desmond Tan was appointed as the DPAS and was formally introduced to the school in January 2022. However, he had been teaching and working in the school for a long time before this recent promotion.

The DPAS has a very crucial role in the school. He is in charge of the Y1-4 curriculum and also constantly improves and tweaks the education experience in RI to better fit with the times. For example in 2012, the then DP of Educational Development of RI, Dr Theresa Lai, led the creation of the GAP Semester which is now a definitive part of Rafflesian life. Such innovations in the field of Academic Studies are the ones that impact students the most, as we encounter such matters in our everyday lives. Even with the pandemic in our lives, new additions that have changed the RI experience for the better have been led and initiated by the DPAS.

Our previous DPAS, Dr Theresa Lai, helped introduce the PLD programme into RI. Now, a revamped CLE curriculum is amongst a few of the changes Mr Tan has implemented into the school’s curriculum to improve student development.

What would a typical day for Mr Tan look like?

Although we may be familiar with Mr Tan’s current role, we may not be familiar with his personality and his teaching. 

Since January, Mr Tan has been transiting into his role of DPAS,. He finds the role exciting and action-packed on a day-by-day basis. Of course, that does not mean he is above the nitty-gritty details that working in RI necessitates. In the end, emails and meetings are part and parcel of his day, like in any other job. This is something even us students can relate to, which is perhaps an unavoidable element of life in the Information Age.

One of the more unique aspects of his role is that Mr Tan is involved in planning the level briefings for our parents, and the Assemblies we have come to experience. Indeed, he mentions how Assemblies used to be face-to-face, something half the school population has unfortunately never experienced. 

In his previous post of Dean of Academic Studies, Mr Tan used to teach classes. He has actually worked at RI for 27 years teaching Physics. He mentions how he used to plan and conduct lessons, all with the aim of helping his students learn well. Now, he has transitioned to thinking at a more macro-level of education, where he is not directly responsible for individual students but for student experiences at a larger group or cohort level. “So in a sense, I do miss being in class”, he tells us. He felt that teaching was a means of taking his mind off the administrative duties and enjoying interacting with students. Seeing the students learn well brought him great joy. Since he no longer teaches and thus cannot experience the students’ joy of learning directly, he is fond of those old memories.  Nevertheless, he says that at the end of the day, learning is still the aim, regardless of his role in and out of the classroom.

What does Mr Tan do to relax?

In the pandemic, many of us have found new hobbies and ways to relax, and Mr Tan is no exception. He used to be very fond of tennis, but with the pandemic’s outbreak, it became harder to continue playing regularly. So, he picked up a new skill: Cycling. This was a hobby he could partake in by himself, without worrying about social distancing while also getting some exercise at the same time.

Mr Tan also sometimes goes to museums and performances. He appreciates music, and also enjoys looking at these glimpses into the past. However, he himself is not particularly expert on it and simply enjoys it as a layman would.

As for his views on the uses of social media, what does he think?

“I think it’s best that we are able to use it properly and use it well, because if we are not able to do so, it can be something very dangerous”, he tells us. He believes that used well, social media is a good source of information as newspapers fade out. But if it is used without caution or accountability, it can be abused and exploited to cause chaos and spread fake news. Thus, he thinks that appropriate measures must be taken for social media to be safe.

Big question: What does he think of PLDs?

The PDLP programme has been one of the greatest changes in the recent history of the school. As the DPAS, Mr Tan is responsible for the planning of and administration of the programme.

Mr Tan says that overall, it is still important to remember PLDs as just a platform, like just bigger handphones, and that they do not control us. He believes that responsibility in using PLDs would  be something brought up in our CLE lessons, and that we should take responsibility for our own usage instead of making others enforce the rules for us. After all, he says, PLD use should be “undergirded by the existing values we have”. This means exercising integrity in using the devices and not using the PLDs for purposes that they were not meant to be used for.

Furthermore, he believes that having access to the PLDs is a means to “T-based education”, which means covering a wide breadth of subjects like the top of the letter T when when we first encounter new topics and subjects, before going deeper ,like the “tail” of the T, into a particular subject. That way, one can get a more holistic view and multiple perspectives about an issue.

He tells us, “it’s no longer a case of just looking deep, into physics or into biology or into chemistry. in all discoveries, things happen when there is a cross between [areas]”. The PLD programme is just another way of learning across disciplines, a way to make connections between concepts in math, or science or in language, and link them with computing or with one other. That is also the idea of the GAP Day programmes that allow us to  learn across multiple disciplines.

As to whether or not complete online learning should be implemented, Mr Tan is hesitant. He believes that without the physical experience of school, we are missing out on crucial things like social and teamwork skills. He finds that  a balance is important, because he thinks that PLDs are a way to enhance but not completely strip away the physical part of the learning experience. He believes that it is “never going to be an ‘either-or’ situation, where we can only choose between using the PLD or completely written, or between digital or written options”. Therefore, the most effective solution is to find a good balance between digital and non-digital learning. 

Lastly, what hopes for the future does Mr Tan have and what advice does he have for us?

“Actually, in the future, we may not really know how things are, because I think that  if you asked me this question 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to mention what’s happening now.” This is what Mr Tan thinks of the future: It will be as volatile and unpredictable as ever, and growing at an exponential rate. But there is one thing he strongly believes in: It is only with “the correct mindset and the correct values, that we can embrace the future.” No matter what changes occur, without the necessary values in life, we cannot live well. 

Finally, to any struggling Rafflesians he says this, “You are not alone, help is out there, okay? It’s important for the person who’s struggling to know that help is available, and to approach the teachers, or even any member of staff, if you are struggling. If it is an academic area, then this is something the teachers can help with. If it is a socio-emotional area, we will be able to guide the person to the right help that is needed.” This is some helpful advice that Rafflesians should take to heart and remember.

Let us thank Mr. Tan for talking to us about this. His perspectives have been greatly insightful, and I hope that everyone has taken his key messages to heart. 

For more stories, visit Raffles Publications', The Eagle Eye.

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