Politics for Young Singaporeans

October 2, 2011


Politics for Young Singaporeans

By Seah Chiang Nee (10-01-11)

In the face of rapid social and political changes, the government plans to shift its education system more towards building character and values and understanding local politics.

IT comes at a time when Singaporeans are clamouring for a greater degree of personal liberties and liberal democracy in a city where bonds are being diluted by mass foreign arrivals.

In the eyes of the government, they require a new effort to reinforce national and individual values, particularly in politics, which had guided the city for the past 46 years.

On Wednesday, the government announced a record-high population of 5.18 million, of which 37% came from abroad. This was another growth of 2.1% in the past six months.

The continuing influx has raised resentment among Singaporeans and the government has organised community programmes to integrate the different communities.Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat’s concern is not only in dealing with larger numbers of students or improving academic quality, but also ensuring that youths respond rationally.

From official comments so far, the concept seems to be two-pronged – one being to mould student behaviour towards others, particularly foreigners living in their midst.

The 50-year-old minister defined moral values and responsible behaviour as “respect, responsibility, care and appreciation towards others”.

The second part – likely to be more controversial – is to get students to understand politics a la Singapore.He told a recent seminar that political values would be included such as responsibilities of citizenship.

“As a young nation with a short history of independence, we must have informed, rugged and resilient citizens.” When the students graduate, he said “they would stay united to overcome crises and adversities which we must expect to happen from time to time”.

Heng, one-time principal private secretary to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, became Education Minister after his election in May and is believed to be earmarked for a higher leadership role.

His plan is not entirely new. Last year, the Education Ministry had set up a Citizenship Education Unit with a view to crafting “active citizens”.

“We may live on a small island but, unlike Robinson Crusoe, we do not live alone,” he told the gathering.

The new focus would get youths to be less self-centred, “to look beyond themselves and start to appreciate people whom they come into contact with regularly but seldom notice”.

His “citizenship” policy appears to differ with the stand of Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who described Singapore in a speech as “not a country, but a city”.

Heng not only thinks otherwise, but wants to implant the idea of citizenship deeply in the student mind.The new objective is not only to develop the student academically, but also to get him to think of his own responsibilities in the wider society.

The public reaction to the plan is likely to be mixed, with many parents supporting moral and character training.By nature, Singaporeans are generally conservative and stick to tradition – particularly the older folk.

“The teaching of social behaviour and values is a long time coming,” said a retired civil servant. The youths here are generally quick-learning and hard working but a bit too self-centred to live in a global city,” he added. “A ‘values-based’ education should balance things.”

However, the idea of political teaching may not go down too well with many people in the wake of the May election in which 40% of people voted against the ruling party.

To some, it stirs suspicions of “political brainwashing” of young minds.When the idea was first mooted last year, leaders of the People’s Action Party (PAP) had expressed concern that Singaporeans were becoming too influenced by “Western-type democracy”.

Ever since the election, Lee Kuan Yew has condemned the principle of a two-party political system as detrimental for Singapore.His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is a few shades less hard-hitting than him and has pledged to implement reforms gradually.

In a talk to foreign correspondents in 2005, PM Lee said: “I think in 20 years our society will change. I think the politics of it will change. But I do not see a Western model … as the target we want to aim for.”

Critics fear that the political programme would be used “to clean youthful minds” so that the ruling party can remain in power.“The classroom can easily be turned into an arena for political campaigning on behalf of the ruling party behind the veneer of providing an all-rounded curriculum,” said Ng E-jay in his online feedback.

“This is crossing the line. Politics should stay out of the classroom,” commented surfer gil.Will it work?

Some teachers believe it is a lot easier to teach social values and individual behaviour than it is implanting political values in an individual.It will even be tougher to make the learning stick as he grows into an adult.

“Students are not stupid these days. Unlike us 30 years ago, these kids are well informed, having access to the Internet,” said acacia. He said he would be surprised if they took such lessons seriously.

The average student today generally pays little interest to politics, and such a programme might completely turn him off the lectures, said a polytechnic student.

Or, he added, it could be a disaster for the PAP. “Instead of supporting the ruling party, they could well rotate to the opposition parties,” he said.Besides, such value teaching can badly backfire if the political leaders and teachers do not follow the “right values” that they want students to learn.

9 thoughts on “Politics for Young Singaporeans

  1. Din,
    Singapore is entering a new “Normal”. Not sure if it’s a good thing. For me, theoretically, 2 party system is good. Provided that the alternative is capable & competent. Unfortunately, the alternative parties have yet to come up to mark yet.
    Meanwhile the alternative website such as Online citizen has given Najib a thumbup. On the repeal of ISA…….While forgotten the fact that it would be replaced by 2 anti terrorist acts…….Hahaha!

  2. The fabric of Singaporean society are appearing to split at its seams but I doubt “citizenry education”, as an attempt at damage control, works.

    It is like trying to re-invent the wheel at best and at the worst, subjecting Singaporeans to further “brain washing”, as if they have not gone through enough already during their stint in nation service.

    There is no perfect system that lasts forever because the only certainty in Life is change itself. LKY embraced elitism to make Singaporean society more rugged, resilient and competitive. The more compelling reason was Singapore with her small and young population did not have the luxury to spend x number of years to train and expand her own human resources to meet her needs.

    Hence the decision to import foreign talent. But over the years, the reality of the situation is that Singaporeans have become overwhelmed by the competition, not only for jobs but in other areas as well – affordable housing, education and transportation. The “average” Singaporeans who lagged, feel marginalized like they have become second class citizens.

    The solution is not further indoctrination but perhaps in improving the livelihood of her citizens in their ability to have access to more affordable facilities.

  3. “The new focus would get youths to be less self-centred,”

    What? And lose the characteristic traits of Kiasu and Kiasi?
    Can’t really teach humility, altruism nor empathy, you know. These attributes require a lot of nurturing right from birth by caregivers and parents. Maybe it’s better if you guys stick to Eugenics – you know.., highly educated women receiving insemination from equally high IQ male donors. That’s what was suggested some time ago, wasn’t it?

    If it doesn’t work, at least learn to eat some gulai pucuk paku, so that you don’t insult your poor neighbor who thought it was a ‘treat’, by saying that it’s “Sakai” food. Maybe it’s the fault of Pappy, who prides himself as being a Confucian extraordinaire.

  4. “Can’t really teach humility, altruism nor empathy, you know. These attributes require a lot of nurturing right from birth by caregivers and parents….” CLF

    So true. Another way of looking at it. The desolateness of a situation is the test on how civil and accommodating a society claims to be because at the end of the day it is all about self preservation. It is every man and dog for themselves.

    Or to be able to unshackle the “kiasu” and “kiasi” syndrome by embracing and loving our fellow humans as in 1 John 4:20 ? 🙂

    So, what is the point of attaining all the material goods but in the process, to be deprived of a caring and humane socio-political environment ?

  5. Guys, you have got to give some credit to the PAP government for trying to adapt to changes in their make up of its citizenry, with 35% of it being foreigners. Perhaps, they should encourage parents to play a more active role in the nurturing process. Parents must play a proactive role in the early development of their kids.

    I see a contradiction; on the one hand you want a rugged, resilient and competitive society and on the other, you want a values-based society, that is a caring and humane one. It is tough to blend this. But at least, Singapore is trying to do something about it via education. Here we seem to have abandoned our idea of a caring society.–Din Merican

  6. A word of caution though. Are you all sure you would be glad to remove ISA ?

    Why does Singapore want to still maintain their ISA ?
    In view of the Memali reckless episode, in some ways the initial clampdown via the ISA prevented it to spread far & wide right up to the East Coast, because of “religious fervour”.
    Personally, i offer the view that it was the initial quick action of ISA-application, which prevented things to spread far & wide to the north & south, right up to East Coast states, this time on ” racial fervour” in the aftermath of May 13 ?
    Don’t forget, the Al’Maunah Arms heist in Ipoh on their ” global” agenda to overthrow our legitimate Govt – remember some guys sent to the gallows – and set up ” Islamic” governments in the world, Malaysia included in their ” noble” agenda/s ?
    sorry to dampen your enthusiasm, but we are awaiting the real contents of the proposed Anti-Terrorism laws & so-called Preventive oriented laws – let’s wait & see.

  7. DDM,

    No one can possibly dispute what the PAP has achieved for Singapore but if the results of her previous general elections can attest, the Singaporean government seems to be out of touch with the ground swell of public opinion . The people, or rather, a growing sector of her citizenry, wants a more caring and humane government.

  8. Good point ABNIZAR about the ISA. The problem with ISA is that authorities have (conveniently) forgotten its original intention – a response to armed action against an elected government.

    If we keep that provision and ensure it is never used for political dissent nor against those whose views the authorities find inconvenient,the problem might be resolved.

  9. Yes Isa,
    All Pre-emptive laws are laws of ” last resort “, before the final Military take-over, due to breakdown of civil laws, like anarchy stage ( its Marshal law ). That was the case in the May 1969 riots.
    What helped the whole nation tremendously, was the initial ISA clampdown, on individuals who had ” planned” for racial riots right up to the north, south & the east coast states….and ” conflagration” was CONFINED To KL area only.
    For the record, the young UMNO turks ( who had ambitions for Dato Harun Idris/Musa Hitam team to take-over the next Govt at that timewith blessings of Tun Razak ) had run berzek to go on the rampage….but ironically IT WAS Dato Harun himself who flew all over to pacify & ” cool” everybody down….and won the day for Malaysia’s Peace !
    In that way, its good preventive law.
    But of course, it must NEVER be used & abused for political dissent, & Govt is obliged to put it down unequivocally in the propsed ammendments.

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