by Gerald Giam
It may come as a surprise to some, but I disagree with former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong’s view that “school and grassroots work don’t mix” (Today newspaper, 4 January 2011). Mr Siew felt that “partisan activities that favour a specific political party or politician should not be officially sanctioned and endorsed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) or schools” and that “campaigning for political parties and politicians is clearly improper in schools and workplaces”.
I disagree with the thinking that if you are still in school, then you should avoid partisan politics; that politics is somehow an “adults-only” activity which will corrupt young minds. Consequently, this leads to local schools and even universities banning any partisan political organisations. For example, in the National University of Singapore, students who are interested in politics can only join a club like the Democratic Socialist Club, which disavows any political affiliation. In contrast, when I was studying in the University of Southern California, there was a College Republicans club and and College Democrats club. Members openly supported and campaigned for Republican or Democratic candidates during the local, state or national elections. A search on the Internet will find numerous Republican or Democrat clubs in high schools across the US.
I see nothing wrong with young people, even minors, getting involved in politics. Politics affects all our lives–yes even the young lives. If we can get more young people to understand the issues, to get involved in supporting a cause they earnestly believe in, or to help organise a political campaign, I believe our next generation will become much more engaged and civic minded than they are now. Politics is not inherently evil, just like television or the Internet aren’t inherently bad. It’s only when it is abused does it corrupt.
I think what Mr Siew was really concerned about–which of course he couldn’t explicitly say if he wanted his letter published–was the MOE supporting the PAP’s political outreach activities on campus. I share this concern too.
I believe the real reason why the PAP bans partisan political clubs on campus is to prevent young minds from being shaped by alternative political ideas. They know that impressionable young people are more easily ‘converted’ to agree with the opposition cause than older adults. However when it comes to clubs that support the PAP, these are given the green light.
The Boon Lay Youth Club (BLYC) was founded in 2003 by the son of PAP MP Mdm Ho Geok Choo to, among other things, help out at PAP MPs’ Meet-the-People sessions and organise PAP grassroots activities where PAP MPs are invited as guests of honour. According to a Straits Times report, Mdm Ho successfully lobbied the then-Senior Minister of State for Education for BLYC to be recognised as a co-curricular activity (CCA) in her son’s school (whereby students can earn points for favourable admission to university). This wish was promptly granted. Mdm Ho proudly declared to the Straits Times that “the Youth Club has become an appendage of the Boon Lay (PAP) grassroots organisations”. Years later, the current president of the club sees nothing wrong in writing an article for the PAP’s organ, Petir, and signing off as the president of BLYC.
Now that the MOE has given official sanction to BLYC, I wonder if they would give their approval if a club in a junior college were to be set up in support of an opposition party MP.
This article first appeared in Gerald Giam's blog