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The real lessons of BLYC

by Joshua Chiang

Source: [email protected] Lay

That the Boon Lay Youth Club (BLYC) has come under fire for partisan links to the People’s Action Party (PAP) is no surprise. But it's not the only thing that's worrying about the BLYC as a CCA.

In a letter to the Straits Times Forum page, MOE defended it’s position by claiming that “students have the opportunity to develop qualities of compassion, leadership and teamwork.”

But quite tellingly, in the original Straits Times report on the BLYC, the group would not have grown to its current strength had it not been for being recognized as a CCA.

“'They wanted to know what's in it for them,' Daniel told The New Paper in 2003. 'They have no time and this is not part of our CCA.'” (Daniel Lim was one of the founders of the BLYC. He is also the son of Madam Ho Geok Choo, the MP for Boon Lay)

RI students involved in grassroots work (Straits Times 24 Dec 2010)

The BLYC’s greatest achievement according to the Straits Times was in organizing the year end Countdown @Boon Lay. It was attended by around 30,000 people.

In response to ex-NMP Siew Kum Hong's letter to TODAY, a parent of a BYLC volunteer wrote:

“I understand that this event was fully organised and managed by the students and I do not believe that these students will ever have the opportunity to organise such a massive event in any other CCA activities.” Tan Ah Teck

("It's not about politics at Boon Lay Youth Club at all", TODAY, Jan 5 2011)

One cannot deny that involvement in BLYC – or most community work – would be a good character building experience.

However, that the BYLC was able to attract volunteers after it had achieved CCA status raises the question of whether those who joined did so only because there was the incentive of CCA points.

That the parent noted the scale of the event his daughter was involved in, which other CCAs could not offer also raised the question:

What if the BLYC were not a CCA?

Would he have been equally proud if she had given up her time in a volunteer work that produced less visible results?

Public Service, PAP-style

In a 2006 article published by the Straits Times, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong remarked that the GRC system made it easier to find ‘top talents’.

'Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics,' Mr Goh said.

Other MPs quickly chimed in.

Teo Ser Luck said that a rookie politician would face a "steep learning curve and may not have enough time" if he had to stand for election on his own rather than be part of a team.

Lee Yi Shyan said "If the system can remove as many impediments as possible, then the political system will be able to get more people to join."

More recently in a Channel NewsAsia programme, Dr Lim Wee Kiak (MP for Sembawang GRC) made a very revealing remark when he likened public service to a liability.

“When you’re an MP, you’re an MP for life. Even when you step down, your liability-hood continues with you." he said in response to a question from the show's host.

What are we really teaching?

It might appear to be too much of a stretch to make a direct link between the BLYC and the prevalent attitude of the incumbent towards public service.

But what’s apparent is how such ‘pragmatism’ appears to be the norm in all levels of thinking; this thinking that something is not worth doing unless there is an assurance of success and that there is a tangible incentive for doing it. We have to seriously ask ourselves where such thinking originates.

The ‘success’ of the BLYC is not a triumph of student initiative and volunteerism. The lesson being taught is that the easiest route to success is to walk the road most sanctioned.

Youths searching for real lessons in empowerment and sacrifice should look elsewhere.

Read also "BLYC debate: Excavating the political"