Thursday, 30 May 2013

Raffles Institution (RI) vs Hwa Chong Institution (HCI)

Recently, I was posed this question by a parent: Which school was better, Raffles Institution (RI) or Hwa Chong Institution (HCI)? After attending both schools' open houses last Saturday, her P6 son still could not decide (presumably, the boy's grades are good enough to go to either school). That got me thinking - how does one measure 2 'top' schools of comparable profile? 

                   Singaporeans love to compare.

Disclaimer: I am neither a teacher of HCI or RI. The parent in question is an acquaintance of mine and she was interested in my opinion, generally based on my experience as a teacher. She wanted to know which factors to consider before making a choice and because I was a teacher of neither school, she believed I could be neutral and objective.

First, let's take a look at what the schools have in common:

- Both offer the Integrated Program (IP), a 6-year programme without 'O' levels

- For the high school/secondary school section, both are all-boys only. The college sections are both co-ed.

- Both campuses have a boarding school

- Both are 'top' schools (or 'elite' schools, as some would like to label them) boasting long lists of prestigious award and scholarship holders

- Both have well-established academic, talent and leadership development programmes

- Both have a long history in Singapore (RI is 190 years old and Chinese High is 94 years old)

What are the differences in the 2 schools, then? I have identified a list of factors that parents and prospective students may want to take into account, and how RI and HCI match up.

A Table for Direct Comparison

Factor (in no particular order)

Raffles Institution

Hwa Chong Institution


School Fees 
(for Singapore citizens)

$300 per month

$250 per month for Sec 1 and 2, $300 per month from Sec 3 onwards


Cheaper! If you are a scholarship holder then this makes no difference.

Student- Teacher ratio




The smaller the ratio, the better.

No. of CCAs offered (College/Year 5 to 6)

27 sports, 42 clubs

27 Sports, 24 clubs


Greater variety of CCAs.

Language culture

Predominantly English speaking.

English with much more emphasis on bilingualism


It's always better to know more than 1 language.

Criteria for School Diploma

There are 3 levels of Diplomas awarded (Ordinary, Merit and Distinction).

Minimally, the Raffles Diploma recognizes participation and achievement across 5 domains – Cognitive, Character and Leadership, Community and Citizenship, Arts and Aesthetics, Sports and Health.

Based on Prelim Exam result, excellent conduct in JC1 and JC2 as well as one of the following:

Scholastic Achievement (eg rep country in academic contests at international level, taking H3 subjects, achievement in Olympiad etc)


Leadership and Services (eg rep country in Sports, CCA leaders, organizers of Service Learning etc)


RI’s structure for awarding diplomas is more differentiated and holistic. The HCI diploma places higher emphasis on academic achievement.

Internship / Attachment Opportunities / Sabbaticals

RI boasts 120 different courses as part of their Gap Semester programme (a 9-week period set aside for Yr 4 students to explore and create their own learning) including opportunities to go overseas for service learning and industrial attachments. Student-initiated programmes are also encouraged.

Plenty of platforms and opportunities provided by the school. HCI also offers a broad-based sabbatical programme (1 week per term for 3 terms a year from Sec 1 to 4) which works out to 12 weeks in total.


This is subjective. I personally feel that RI’s gap semester idea is revolutionary. You are basically choosing between variety (HCI) or depth (RI).

No. of President Scholars to date



RI, based on past track record


By car: Manageable, with some jams during morning peak
By public tpt: 
Relatively near Bishan and Marymount MRT stations. There are also 6 bus services to choose from.

By car: Very bad traffic every school morning, since it is located in the same area as many other schools.

By public tpt: presently not near any MRT. There are more than 10 bus services to HCI – but most buses will be stuck along very bad traffic during morning peak along with the cars.


HCI may be better in a few years time after Tan Kah Kee MRT station is completed – we will have to wait and see.

Information for all of the above data can be retrieved from the following websites:

Ok it does seem that based on the above factors alone, RI is a better bet. But hang on a minute...

Other Factors

To be fair, I have considered, but left out the following factors because there is no standard basis for comparison between the 2 schools:

- 'A' level results (As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, schools tend to disclose only favourable results to the public)
- Internal promotion criteria (as the 2 schools use different measures)

- Standard/Quality of teachers (how to measure?)

- Difficulty, reliability and validity of internal tests and results (no one knows for sure.. and any conclusions are based on anecdotal evidence)

- Rigour / success of programmes offered (Only existing staff and students will know)

- Number of school awards (because the schools may have applied for different awards to benchmark different aspects of their education. As of 2011, both have attained the prestigious Singapore Quality Award and therefore recognised as world class educational institutions)

Society's Expectations and Stereotypes

This is something that both HCI and RI students (and alumni) have in common - being labelled and stereotyped by others. Often, parents are thrilled with the prospects of having a 'prestigious' brand name associated with their child (eg 'My son is from RI!!') that they forget stereotypes and labels work both ways- it can hurt, too. Some students are embarrassed or afraid to admit they come from 'top' schools.  Genuine, anonymous sentiments can also be easily obtained from Facebook 'Confession' pages these days - evidently, students from top schools have been labelled as 'smart alec' , 'mugger', elite, snobbish, 'rich and pampered', nerds and even hooligans!

"The Albatross about my neck was hung"

Some of you may recall my earlier post responding to a HCI alumni who was miserable during her 2 years at HCI because she could not live up to the HCI stereotype of academic perfection. That, in my opinion, is an Albatross that every student from a 'good' school (not just HCI and RI) must wear - society's expectations. For reasons unknown (aside from a tinge of jealousy and envy, perhaps?), Singaporeans in general make 2 huge assumptions about students from good schools: 

(A) Those with good academic grades must have equally good moral values and behaviour. This is just absurd - IQMQ, EQ and AQ (referring to intelligence, moral, emotional and adversity quotient) are independent measures for every individual. When a student is admitted to a 'good' school, they are admitted largely based on academic merit which does not equate good values and cannot measure good character. Let me bring up Wee Shu Min and the elitism controversy again - clearly, IQ may not be proportionate to EQ or MQ.

(B) Those with good academic grades in Primary School will continue to excel in Secondary School and in life. This is also illogical. As the Chinese saying goes, 小时了了,大未必佳. As adolescents mature, their circumstances and outlook in life may change. Laying a good academic foundation gives a better chance of continued academic success but does not guarantee it. Examples of those who 'slip through the cracks' include students of 'top' schools getting retained in a level, being transferred to other schools or losing their scholarships. Because people are flawed, such unfortunate instances happen (and sometimes make the news) - even if the 'good' schools do not publicly disclose information of this nature.

Everyone is judged... whether they like it or not.

Having said that, don't expect society's expectations and stereotype labeling to change anytime soon - whether you are enrolled into HCI or RI (or other good schools). At some point in time, prospective students and existing students of good schools will need to re-look at their personal definitions of success and learn to cope with the stereotypes and labels that are part and parcel of life. To take the bitter with the better.

To sum up...

Should your child go to HCI or RI? I would say: do more research and make up your own mind. No one can decide for you / your child because of each child's unique circumstances. I'm merely presenting the case as fairly as I can - you be the judge.

IMHO it will do us well as a society to gradually move away from the fixation of 'top' school brands (just look at Finland - egalitarianism works well, too). To use the words of our Education Minister, every school is a good school, right?

- A


  1. Personally I would prefer RI as I come from a Chinese-speaking family, thus RI would be a better choice to be in touch with the official language of Singapore.

    Of course both schools' grades are different. RI counts by GPA while HCI counts by MSG.

    There are instances of students from RI being retained/asked to leave due to their low GPA but that is after 1 year of "conditional pass"

    In HCI, it is also the same but those whose MSG scores are high will have to take O levels instead of going through the IP stream.

    Both schools offer the best possible education for their students, so it really depends on whether the student himself likes the environment of each school.

  2. if the student can cope with one, he can cope with the other, cos both schools are excellent academically. i'd suggest choosing the one nearer or more convenient to the student's home, a simple and logical choice.

  3. HCI has a much more welcoming environment. RI's 2014 open house felt very elitist :(

  4. I'd agree that RI's open house feels elitist, but mainly because in the past few years, especially, the school management has been increasingly promoting RI's corporate image. To be honest, most students do not care very much for this or think rather negatively of it--I'd say that most teenagers would rather hold a warm, fun open house if they had their way! (Of course, I speak only for what I've seen.) After you enter RI, the atmosphere is very much a homely, warm one, school stress aside. The orientation is very fun, loud and exciting for most Sec 1s, I think. Raffles students are incredibly dedicated and it shows in the planning for this type of student-headed school events. If this post comes off as egoistic, it's only because RI really inculcates a sense of pride for being a Rafflesian! (Even as most of us groan about school stress.) tl;dr, whatever you choose, both schools are great and I'm sure one will enjoy their experience in either! (:

  5. I dont really know but i feel that RI is better since its more convenient. Both schools are equally good.

  6. Raffles has a student body that is very helpful. Everyone is in a study group where friends with strengths in different subjects would help the others who are weaker. The guy strong in GP helps the guy strong in Maths and vice versa, after which they throw hoops....

  7. Raffles definitely.
    there is strong school spirit, more flexible curriculum, a lot of leadership chances. Most activities are planned by students. Raffles will prepare you very well for the working world.

  8. HCI! It's school spirit is so much stronger, since it is derived from the chinese values the school has. The students also have a lot of freedom in choosing which activities and subjects they want, especially in sec 3 and 4, along with countless leadership opportunities.It is the school for the 21st century citizen.

    I would also like top point out that traffic to chi isn't that bad. The traffic depends on the time. It would also be more accurate to calculate the number of president scholars since independence, i believe that the numbers given might include he number of queen scholars. Hwa chong's diploma is based on how the student fares in the 五德, adversity quotient (AQ), intellectual quotient (IQ), emotional quotient (EQ) and moral quotient (MQ). I can only talk for hwa chong, but i believe ri is similar.

  9. HCI stands out for me, their students compared to RI students does portray a more spirited character and shows initiative with willingness to attend to your queries..Either they are well trained for the open house or it is in built in their environment. I attended both schools today HCI just topped in culture and holistic outlook to education.

  10. HCI has a welcoming and friendly environment...RI has a rather arrogant approach

    1. What makes you think that RI is 'arrogant'? It sounds like you are speaking from a biased approach, perhaps you know someone you do not like in RI, or you are from HCI? Maybe even Nanyang? Either way, I feel that it really depends on one's needs and how a school can cater more to one person than another - What kind of diploma do you want? What opportunities would you like?

    2. Yes. As stated above, there are different types of education systems offered by both schools, and it is 'good' for you is either school is able to cater to your specific needs. Thus, one cannot really determine which school is better than the other.

    3. AHHHHH!!!!! Why does every single person think that RI is arrogant? HCI is also VERY arrogant. Quit targeting RI already. We've taken enough insults. My sister went to Nanyang and then to HCI and SHE said that HCI SUCKS. Like, why would a person hate his/her own school so much? She even said that she thought of herself as a Rafflesian girl. Wow. Raffles must have put in so much effort to earn that kind of reputation. Suck it up, Annoying Anonymous Guy.

    4. Unfortunately, both institutions have their fair share of stereotypes and it's inevitable that they'd get branded as "elitist" or "arrogant". As a student currently studying in HCI myself, I do feel like these kinds of attitudes will eventually emerge when you're immersed in such environments that emphasize not only on academic excellence but being all-rounders as well.

    5. I remember when I was in P6, I knew for certain that I didn't want to go to RGS. I found that RGS was arrogant and their website just gives me the feeling that they only want elite students. My friend also told me that her best friend changed a lot after going to RGS. I know that we are talking about RI vs HCI right now, but i wanted to say that people who think that R-schools are arrogant, are not saying it just for the sake of it. Honestly, NYHC gives me a more warm and spirited feeling.

  11. RI is multi-cultural as much as Singapore is.

    1. Not sure if Anon 6 Aug is trying to be sarcastic. I would say either way is arguable.

      If you think sg is multi-cultural, Melbourne will blow your mind ;)


  12. But in fact I feel that if your MT is not that good you should really chooses RI.

  13. My perspective as an American who interviews many students from both HCI and RI for college admissions to Princeton, Brown and UPenn/Wharton, students from both schools have been excellent. It doesn't seem to be the school, per se, so much as the individual and how they leverage the school's vast resources, that matters... Just two cents...

  14. Argh! I hate the war and tension between RI and HCI. Students from these schools tend to see each other as their enemies. Why can't we just get along happily and instead work together to make Singapore a better place for everyone. After all, both the schools' missions are to create leaders to lead Singapore in the future.