The commentary “2011 Generation” (September 10, 2011) by Miss Andrea Ong and Miss Rachel Chang: it is indeed difficult to ascertain the levels of “political awareness” in our tertiary institutions, because different individuals hold varying standards or expectations, and – given the increasingly participatory nature of politics – they also possess dissimilar attitudes towards socio-economic issues. Nonetheless, excitement from the back-to-back elections has certainly raised interest levels, simultaneously proliferated discourse amongst previously-apathetic or lethargic undergraduates, and empowered local campus political associations with larger memberships and greater enthusiasm.
Political Interest, Check; What’s Next For Students?
But are these groups capitalising upon these advantages, or will the interest generated wane as time goes by and pragmatic, personal concerns take the front seat? Crucially, it is imperative for the respective management committees to move beyond existing, pedantic endeavours or promises, and organise constructive activities in the future. This can include the introduction of focus group discussions, complemented by studies or research; the promotion of the submission of policy-papers or other documents following various dialogues or exchanges; as well as the organisation of large-scale gatherings for an assortment of causes in school, or in the community.
Given that there is a proliferation of opinions and valuable insights online, these perspectives can be discussed in an intimate setting of a focus group discussion. Closely complemented by inputs from Internet-based platforms, representatives from the political associations can serve as moderators to encourage participants to have their say; the small sessions can also be value-added with invited administrators from the ministries.
Producing Tangible Results
The idea is to start moving ideas and concepts into real, implementable policies or initiatives; the fact is that these organisations – well-placed within the local universities – have potentially vast manpower and resources to tap upon. The problem with existing forums is that they are excessively large-scale, which makes them unproductive for proper, in-depth exchanges to take place; furthermore, the status quo is woefully unsustainable. With events such as the focus group discussions and other seminar series, the stakeholders can gradually promote the submission of policy-papers and documents to the public service for consideration. The intent is to start showing takeaways from these dialogues, and concretely make a gradual difference through their actions.
In the long-term, our colleges must become hub-bubs of change and activism. Large-scale gatherings might not deliver the most in terms of tangible change; but these activities are useful for raising immediate awareness on pertinent issues, and function as conduits for proposals of change in school, or in Singapore. Unless the student groups are willing to take a leap of faith and be more adventurous in organising useful vis-à-vis sessions to produce tangible results, not much will change in the years to come.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.