In a week of visiting university campuses, the Singapore Democrats today turned our attention to the National Institute of Education (NIE).
Our young educators are the ones who will be shaping the minds of schoolchildren and they, more than anyone else, need to be aware of the principles and practices of democracy. If present indications are anything to go by, however, there is still much work to be done.
A member of the Young Democrats recounted how he had wanted to review Dr Chee Soon Juan’s book The Power of Courage for his class project. The teacher didn’t know what to do and said she had to first check with her superiors. She returned to give him the go ahead but not before telling him that he had to qualify in his write-up that the book is “biased”.
Here’s an even more shocking example: A teacher conducting a lesson for her primary fivers on distinguished individuals cited MM Lee Kuan Yew as an example. And her example of the opposite of a distinguished person? Chee Soon Juan, she told her 11-year-olds.
One of her students went home rather upset as he knew Dr Chee. The father confronted the educator who did not seem to realise that her political opinion should not be “taught” to students especially when they are still in primary school. Propagandizing in Singapore begins early.
At the NIE today, however, students seemed receptive to alternative news and information. As the doors to one of the lecture halls swung open and students poured out, SDP leaders were on hand to greet them with flyers.
“Read this important information!” “Don’t let the Government fool you all the time!” “Democracy needs your support!” “Help us spread the word!”
The students came up one by one and eagerly took the pamphlets. Even some of the academic and administrative staff members asked for copies.
Several stopped to chat. And what did they want to talk about? Repeatedly the subject of foreign students taking away university places came up. “Singaporean students are finding it more and more difficult to gain admission to universities here, its very sad,” one of them said.
Others were curious what the Singapore Democrats were doing on campus. Mr Gandhi Ambalam explained that we were there to raise awareness of the need for democracy in Singapore.
Two groups of students from the department of mass communications managed to conduct interviews with the SDP leaders. One of them was Mr Alfian Sa’at. He and a couple of his fellow students filmed the Democrats at work and then interviewed Mr Ambalam and Dr Chee on camera.
After the ideological battle in the earlier years over the political system have been fought, have students become uninterested in politics today because there is no more battle to be fought, Mr Alfian asked Dr Chee.
“There is now an even more important battle to be fought, the battle for democracy,” Dr Chee pointed out. “Without a more democratic system where there is transparency and accountability, our future is in jeopardy.”
Later, two other first-year mass communications students put their classroom instruction to work as they sat down with the visitors for another interview. With pen and notebook at the ready, they fired some very pertinent questions, including how the SDP viewed the recent relaxation of the rules on political videos.
“The Films Act was something that shouldn’t have been legislated in the first place,” Mr Ambalam said. “Now they find that there is no way they can control it on the Internet, they want to look good as by relaxing the law.”
The wide-ranging questions touched on several issues including the education system, the response of the students to the SDP’s visits, the Singapore Democrats’ plans to reach out to youths, and so on.
All in all it’s been a tiring week, a week where we gave out thousands of flyers calling on the better nature of our youths and exhorting them to rise to their potential as future leaders of our nation. Many have responded as our records show a jump in the number of visits to our website over the last few days.
It is our hope that these students will take up the challenge to help in the struggle to bring democracy to our shores by becoming a part of the Young Democrats, the youth wing of our party.
A nation’s politics will be as authoritarian or as democratic as the people who participate in it. If decent men and women continue to shy away from politics, preferring to passively watch political developments from afar, then our future as a nation will be in great trouble.