Published on Tuesday, 23 February 2016 14:05
Written by Shawn Danker
The Singapore Democratic Party was (SDP) back in the news cycle by complaining online that its request to conduct talks in schools have been turned down by Ministry of Education (MOE). MOE explained that it rejected SDP's requests for access because our schools should be "neutral places of learning and not platforms for partisan politics.
The SDP wanted access to secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and universities to bring "politics and policy making closer to our students, challenging them to engage in thoughtful analysis on the issues facing Singapore." The SDP stated that it has been turned away by NUS, six JCs and three polys and now, MOE itself. The SDP also said that SMU passed the decision on by referring the party's offer to the relevant campus student clubs.
I could not help but feel slightly amused when I read about this saga in the local press. Firstly, I really wondered what the SDP was trying to do with this new stunt of theirs. MOE has already tried to educate our secondary school students about how their government functions by bringing students on social study field trips to parliament. I have to say that I have yet to see one excited secondary school or JC student during these trips to the parliament gallery. Which led me to conclude that the civics lessons in our schools are failing to engage our students. Which leads me to ask: How is the SDP going to succeed in getting our students interested in our political and legislative processes when our own schools have been unable to do so?
Secondly, I think SMU's administrators deftly handled the hot potato issue by deferring the SDP's request to the university's student clubs. That way if the student leaders decide to turn down the SDP's offer, the school could simply say that the student leaders were not interested in whatever the SDP is trying to peddle.
I really wonder why the SDP decided to publicly announce that it had approached MOE and schools. It has been commonly known that our universities are open about inviting opposition politicians to discuss specific topics (which fall within acceptable parameters) at student club organized forums which have been covered in the press and alternative press.
We do have a small number of university students who are eager to have an active hand in shaping the country's future. These students are a minority within their cohorts but at least they are keen to hear alternative viewpoints and debate issues. So why did the SDP go ahead with this latest stunt of theirs instead of trying to engage already politically inclined university students?
Did the party really think that even if individual schools said okay, MOE would acquiesce and grant it's approval? What about the other school management that have yet to reply to the SDP? They will more than likely just say "Oh MOE already said no so we can't do anything with you." The worst part about this development is that IF there were some that were considering inviting specific opposition politicians to talk about specific topics will definitely think twice about extending a hand to the SDP. The SDP's gambit has only ended up poisoning the well for anybody to discuss politics within an school setting.
Was this a stunt on the SDP's part to push the Government into saying no which the party would then use to make a bigger point? Well, the SDP has used MOE's rejection to bring up the subject of school books that were not politically neutral. But MOE has countered the SDP's charges by pointing out that the books that the party mentioned were not endorsed by the ministry.
Was all this an attempt by the SDP to stay relevant after the country focused on the WP and the NCMP debate? Who knows.
[Shawn is a contributor on FreshGrads.Sg, and the opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.]