by Ow Shi Hong/
I address the article titled “Study details of Opposition’s proposed policies, ask for explanations: DPM Wong” in Today, April 11 2011.
What gnawed at and was paramount to me was my cognisance that the DPM deemed the stating of the advice to be warranted. I wondered if his act inadvertently highlights a malaise – some sort of a democracy deficit. Are Singaporeans incapable of leading democratic lives? Can they not be trusted to do something as basic as understanding and evaluating political issues, parties and proposals? I suspect that many Singaporean youths and adults will shake their heads and resolutely retort “No”.
Yet, think thrice. The politically apathetic Singaporean is well-known even if it might be misconceived and stereotypical. I am unconcerned about that Singaporean youth or adult here. Instead, I wonder if many Singaporean children and teenagers are politically uninitiated or ill-informed. More pointedly and plainly, I question if the typical Singaporean child and teenager is politically ‘neglected’ and left to learn politics informally through conversations, newspapers, blogs and so on. I say this because I shudder to imagine some Singaporean primary school student’s response – or lack thereof – to the question of “What is democracy?”
I fear that the student will be stumped as there is no textbook answer.
Is competency in the concepts and processes of democracy and government trivial for young students who will vote and be requested to study the opposition’s blueprints? The answer must be “no”.
Alas, the state seems more concerned about, say, maintaining a harmonious society than empowering primary school students with the knowledge required for living in a democracy. Indeed, the Ministry of Education’s National Education programme has been successful in fostering the multiracial identity or mantra and the attendant behaviour amenable to that. The Singaporean government should rethink and reconfigure its educational programmes if it sincerely wants a democracy.
I am not novel in clamouring for earlier and formal assistance in a Singaporean’s engagement with democracy. I learnt after reflecting about the article I address here that the Worker’s Party, in its manifesto, suggests similarly. I am heartened to learn that a father wanted to introduce Singapore’s electoral procedures to his young teenager with the assistance of an electoral guidebook. Alas, the electoral department that issues the handbooks is privileging the candidates for the upcoming elections in its releasing of the books. Also, I wonder how many parents instruct their child or children like the father I cited.
Finally, the politically insouciant Singaporean is based, inter alia, on the assumption that Singaporeans are conversant in politics. They just tend to not bother acting on their political knowledge. Before we worry about or scoff at that type of Singaporean, should we not acknowledge and arm the politically ill-informed and young Singaporean?