The Humanities Scholarship Programme (HSP)

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Salutations inquisitive junior! If you’ve clicked the link to this page we take it that you have some burgeoning interest in the Humanities Scholarship Programme. A senior once said, “If sleep is for the weak, then you’ll never be weak in the HSP.” The same can be said of the IBDP in itself but don’t let that extinguish your interest! Having recently graduated from the programme, we will attempt to share of our experiences, address some misconceptions and hopefully provide a holistic perspective with regard to the programme. We hope that our advice proves helpful as you embark on your IB journey and consider the various subject options available.

Contents:

  1. The Application Process
  2. The Location
  3. Special Programmes
  4. Perks and Career Opportunities
  5. Misconceptions
  6. Reflections
  7. Conclusion
  1. The Application Process

As with any Humanities Programme in Singapore, the HSP is selective and requires an application process in order to choose potential scholars. MOE Scholarships are available to scholars of the class who are Singaporean citizens. If you aren’t a Singaporean citizen and are still interested in the programme, fret not, we’ll address your concerns in subsequent paragraphs!

Potential applicants may feel pressured to fit into a certain mould of an “ideal student”. We can assure you that no such mould exists. The triumph of the HSP is its ability to bring like-minded peers together to tackle issues of interest and relevance, entrenching ideals of open-mindedness. The HSP class of 2014 was composed of a plethora of unique personalities. Some were more liberal while others were more conservative, some were politically active whilst others found their passions elsewhere. Some were highly religious and some were humanists or agnostics. Yet, these diverse perspectives, belief systems and mindsets were never ostracized. There is a place for just about everyone in the programme, as there is a strong culture of tolerance fostered by a common love of the humanities. Therefore do not be afraid of your differences – they will ultimately help to create a rich, dynamic and diverse environment.

The technical details of the Application Process will not be covered in this write-up; there’ll be more than enough briefings for you, so don’t worry 🙂

Portfolio

As is to be expected when one applies for such a programme, MOE will want a record of your past achievements and CCA records. MOE seems to look favourably upon positions of leadership and responsibility, but this is not a rule. Among our ranks are the Sword of Honour recipient of NCC (Sea), members of the Secondary Scouts Exco, prominent leaders in the band, athletes etc. Undeniably, having a good portfolio with many achievements is a bonus, but it isn’t definitive. Don’t let your anxiety deter you from applying. We have many others who obtained the scholarship without these accolades.

By the time you’re reading this it may be too late, but it’s always a good idea to keep track of your achievements – you’re going to need to present your portfolio again sooner or later.

Essay

The HSP essay aims to evaluate your critical writing skills and knowledge of current affairs, as well as your ability to perform metacritical investigations under a word limit of 800 words. When choosing a contemporary issue to address in your essay, it is crucial that you pick an issue that you believe in or feel invested in, lest the essay sounds contrived. Of critical importance is your ability to be brief in your writing, to present a balanced argument within such a tight word limit. Based on our experiences, 800 words are definitely insufficient for a comprehensive analysis of any current affairs topic. It is thus of utmost importance that you are selective in your choice of what details you choose to include in the essay.

On the aspect of metacritical argument, you are required to provide balance in your essays – that means including a counter-argument. Be tactful in your inclusion of balance – you don’t want to over-emphasise counter arguments because they might dilute the central argument of your essay.

To prepare for the essay, we would advise applicants to read up extensively on current affairs and develop a ‘feel’ for global issues and how they develop. There is no way of predicting what questions will come out, though you will have ample time to prepare and perfect the essay. Nevertheless, do not wait until the questions come out – they are almost always about current affairs and so it would do you good to develop a broad base of knowledge and content from which you can draw.

Interview

The interview is perhaps the most daunting element of the entire application process for many applicants, and t can be a truly frightening experience. With a panel of 3 interviewers in the alien environment of MOE headquarters, anxiety is your biggest enemy. Steel your nerves and prepare your answers well beforehand.

Some of the generic questions you’ll want to prepare for will be listed below. It would be best if you exhibited some semblance of integrity in your responses. As a general rule, it’s okay to not know certain things – they are conscious of the fact that you have limited knowledge and experiences. Greater emphasis is placed on how articulate you are and how well you respond under pressure.

Some of the most popular questions include:

1) Why do you think you deserve the scholarship?
2) What are you going to do with the scholarship?
3) Which of the humanities is your favourite?
4) What are your views on [common current affair]?
5) What books/what type of books have you read?
6) What about the scholarship is most appealing to you?

With regards to the above, it would be to your advantage to show some awareness of the world around you, the subjects you’re going to study (Economics, Literature and History/Geography) and maybe read a few literary works. Do not pretend to know more than you actually do – the results can be disastrous. (A tip from one of the writers, you can deflect the question of what books you read if you’re aware of literary genres, i.e. “what books did you read recently?” “oh, I read 1984 and I really enjoy dystopian literature *rambles for life*”)

One horror story that emerged from the interviews of that same year came from another scholarship holder. During his interview, a long chain of increasingly difficult questions branched from an innocuous remark…

 Interviewer: “So which of the humanities disciplines is your favourite?”

 Student: “Oh I like economics the best…. I studied the European financial crisis of 2008 in secondary school… It piqued my interest in the subject.”

 I: “So what do you think would be the effects of Greek austerity measures on the public and how do you think they will pull Greece out of a recession?”

 S: (dumbstruck and in a quiet murmur): “Uhhhhhhhhhhhh…”

 I: (smirking) “Let’s move on to the next question.”

 While he did go on to receive the scholarship, the interview remained a traumatic experience.

The objective of the interviews isn’t to expose the gaps in your knowledge or make you feel inadequate. Rather, they seek to discern whether or not you would flourish in the environment of the HSP. They will examine your capacity to defend your opinions and engage in critical discussions. Be sincere and be honest.

One of the more interesting stories we’ve heard was that of a certain gentleman who made it through the MOE interview phase – whilst rocking a mohawk. His declaration of aesthetic defiance provoked the following question from his interviewers, “You walk into this interview room with hair like that, and expect a scholarship?” In what can only be described as a moment of absolute courage (or stupidity), he responded, “It’s not my appearance, but what’s on the inside that defines me.” As he proudly declared thereafter, “I walked in a punk and emerged as a scholar.”

Suffice it to say, the interview is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your convictions, personality, and knowledge. Be yourself during the interview and don’t pretend to be someone you’re not – they can always tell.

Appeals

Those who were not accepted into the programme via MOE or those who are non-Singaporeans can make appeals into the HSP. There have been cases wherein non-Singaporeans have entered the class through unique circumstances. I (Jonathan) was a PR at the time I appealed into the programme. I required my IP transcript from secondary school and a teacher-written testimonial, before attending an interview with Mr. Hodge and the Senior Admin, which proved to be the most difficult interview I ever had. The process in years to come may be somewhat different, as the number of available spots in the class to those who wish to appeal may vary. If the class is filled, appeals may not even be open.

The school’s interview may include similar questions to those asked by MOE, but the most pertinent would be why you wish to secure a spot in the HSP class. Similarly, be genuine and be sincere in your responses.

  1. The Location

With their classrooms situated at the bottom of the New Block, HSP scholars begin the day gazing across the waters of their lakeside (okay, pond-side) terrace with intricate wooden benches by the side, filled with rich histories and memories engraved upon their laminated wooden surfaces. The koi swim freely in perfect harmony while the sun dazzles through the canopy of leaves above. Squirrels dart curiously across the ground as the gentle gurgle of the IB fountain delivers peace to troubled hearts. Scenery, ecology and humanity, balanced here in perfect harmony. Of course, such romanticism is often bypassed in the early morning when most students head into their classroom to nap before assembly.

The HSP classrooms are prime property in close proximity to the SAC. At his or her convenience, the hardworking student can save on travelling time to and from the SAC, a great boon in times of hunger and need. In proximity to the roundabout, students need not climb wearisome flights of stairs upon their arrival in school. However, where you, a prospective student, may enjoy the notion of such convenience, there are certain drawbacks you must bear in mind. The HSP classrooms are essentially isolated from where most Y5s and Y6s are – the 3rd, 4th and 5th levels. From the batch of 2015 onwards, students are severely limited in their mobility, having 5 out of their 6 main subjects in the HSP classrooms themselves. Being on a whole different level from your peers (literally – not metaphorically) is problematic as it means your circle of friends may not expand as wide as it could. You’ve got to go the extra mile to befriend your peers, and this is the same problem that intact classes face. The batch of 2014 was blessed, in that they still enjoyed the prospect of moving around for such lessons as SL Maths, ESS, Physics or Chemistry. While it is true that most people walk past the HSP classrooms during their breaks, there still remains the risk of social and emotional isolation from the rest of the level. Sometimes this creates an uncomfortable distance between HSP Students and their level mates. The recommended solution is joining a CCA to meet other people.

The classroom itself is a rich environment to be in. The HSP class receives a considerable amount of resources and over the last couple of years has built up a respectable repository of books and resources through the efforts of its teachers and students. Practical benefits aside, the class and its teachers are lively – the maps, posters and decorations that from the walls and the shelves bear testament to this. It’s these little things that make the IB grind that much more tolerable, brightening one’s day each time he or she steps into the room. It’s much like having a second home.

  1. Special Programmes

On top of the usual academic and extracurricular programmes organized by the school, the HSP features several signature programmes that HSP students will have to organize or participate in. A lot of effort is spent on these events as facilitators and they can come at the most inopportune times – such as during the IA season. Time management is a must to balance the many tasks at hand. The programmes are as described below:

Future Thinking Challenge

The Future Thinking Challenge is a joint collaboration between our school and the Prime Minister’s Office. Open to all Junior Colleges, the Future Thinking Challenge tests the ability of top humanities students to solve future challenges through systematic thinking. HSP scholars must undergo training to help facilitate workshops for other students regarding how to use the RAHS programme. HSP students will also have to serve as emcees and ushers.

In Conversation With…

Students also have the opportunity to engage with top policy and decision makers during the “In Conversation With…” programme. Past ministers have included S. Iswaran, Lawrence Wong, and Tan Chuan Jin. HSP students will similarly have to serve as emcees, moderators and ushers.

Remembering ACS

In remembrance of the contributions of ACSians to Singapore, HSP students will perform research and establish exhibits regarding to commemorate their contributions. The exhibit on Goh Keng Swee is still present in the library.

Overseas Education Programme

Perhaps the most exciting programme available in the HSP is the Overseas Education Programme, wherein the HSP class visits another country to learn about their culture, literature, history and economy. The class of 2014 went on a memorable trip to Taiwan. Other batches have visited South Korea and Shanghai. The programme itself is a fantastic opportunity to travel, learn, and bond with classmates.

  1. Perks and Career Opportunities

There are many benefits of being an HSP Scholar, or even a member of the HSP class.  A lot of effort and stress goes into increasing your prestige for the purposes of university and scholarship applications, and being a humanities scholar is another feather in your cap. Extra resources, additional programmes and the all (okay most)-expenses paid overseas trip are all material benefits that one may rightfully seek to enjoy. However these only scrape the surface of the benefits.

Material advantages aside, the practical benefits come through the teachers. All teachers in ACS(I) are driven and motivated. However, the teachers sent to guide the HSP students are passionate, compassionate and truly act above and beyond the call of duty. The HSP teachers can be trusted to be moral, academic and spiritual guides during the arduous journey that is IB.

In terms of career opportunities, obviously any career related to the sciences or medicine will no longer be an option. Rather, a study of humanities subjects would provide the necessary skills for careers including Law, Politics, International Relations, Journalism, Teaching, Business, Social Work, the Arts and Marketing. If you’re keen to study economics in the UK, it might be more prudent to take HL Maths and forego the HSP.

  1. Misconceptions

Misconception #1: HSP Students face an incredibly difficult syllabus and heavier workload.

We need to clear this up once and for all:

THE HSP STUDENT DOES NOT DO ANY MORE ACADEMIC WORK THAN ANY OF HIS OR HER PEERS.

Yes, the academic modules differ in History and Literature, but in comparison to other HL students, the raw quantity of work is exactly the same. Everybody has the same assessment criteria and components – HSP students do not get graded on a different standard. Admittedly, HSP teachers may be more inclined to assign more homework because they want to push the students more, but this is purely based on the teacher’s preference (which means this extra workload could happen to anyone).

Admittedly, some of the topics taught to the HSP class may be more subjective or abstract and hence be perceived as more difficult. However, you should know that at the end of the day, IB sets the topic list. The HSP class merely gets a different selection from the other classes (decided by the school). What this means is that the different topics are generally of equitable standard and difficulty.

So don’t be afraid of a different syllabus. It’s not necessarily more difficult and does not necessitate extra work. If you’re a scholarship holder, don’t believe for a second that you’re suffering more than anyone else and if you’re not, don’t look upon the HSP class with disbelief and awe.

Misconception #2: HSP Students are elitist and arrogant.

This misconception seems to be propagated by the exclusivity of the programme, murals that seem to champion the programme above others and a certain teacher’s allegations of “elite superiority”. While the composition of the HSP class differs from year to year, students in the class are generally neither arrogant nor derisive. Our batch was never overtly self-congratulatory or excessively caught up with prestige. As prospective members of the class, it’ll be up to you to determine how you’re perceived by the rest of your year. Based on our experience, it’s always good to be humble, sincere and to acknowledge those who have ever assisted you in one way or the other.

  1. Reflections

As mentioned before, the HSP welcomes a diverse range of personalities and this can cause both conflict and comfort. It varies from class to class and year to year. The class of 2014 was blessed to have an environment that provided positive peer pressure – mutual competition that wasn’t excessive. One might think that such an academically driven class would constantly be at each other’s throats, but that is just not the AC way. The culture of family extends to the roots of every member of the class and when times are dire, one sees this culture manifest. When stressful times come (and they will), our class tended to share notes and split the workload. Such a display of mutualism would be considered quite anachronistic in competitive Singapore. However, remember that community and environment are the product of what you make it. The friendly community is fragile and must be cultivated by every member of the class. Mutual benefit and cooperation promises greater happiness, enjoyment and results, so work towards that. The HSP class offers a strong bonding experience, and that can help to lower stress immensely, but you will have to work towards it.

  1. Conclusion

The HSP isn’t for everyone. As students of the HSP, we were placed under high expectations, tight deadlines and heavy demands. Yet amidst the difficulties and challenges that IB brought, we were fortunate to have like-minded classmates with common interests and a strong sense of unity. Constructive discussions on a myriad of topics flourished amidst the disparate perspectives housed within our class and in retrospect, these were instrumental in contributing the class’s intellectual development. If you love the humanities and all its derivatives, we’d encourage you to apply for the HSP. It’ll make for an unforgettable two years. All the best 🙂

Mitchell Leon and Jonathan Chan were members of the HSP class of 2014.

If you have any further queries, feel free to drop them an email at mitchelllsk2@hotmail.com or jonbcy@gmail.com

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