By Tan Fong Han (15A01B)
Photos courtesy of Nicole Chan (15A01B) and Ng Way (15S03A)
‘Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.’
–The Unknown Citizen by W.H. Auden
The notion of governance being split into two segments, that of governing and that of engaging the people in its process, is a very desirable and romantic notion. This forms the foundation of GCEP, and yet it doesn’t at the same time.
Convening once a week on early Monday mornings (as with all other enrichment programmes), the Governance and Civic Engagement Programme (GCEP) is a programme that hands you the tools and opportunities to learn about various systems of governance and to observe how they manifest in society. You’ll learn to evaluate for yourselves what you gather from each system of governance and civic engagement, with the understanding that in every democratic, authoritarian, liberal, semi-democratic state, there is value in its portrayal of the nature of human societies. Hence, while its name suggests the two-pronged approach of governance and active citizenry in all working societies, what students learn through GCEP are the skills they need to evaluate systems and understand the dynamics between the government and the citizens in the different societies today. We may be keen to compartmentalise and deduce but we are taught that every system has its positives and its negatives.
The programme consists of three components: Monday morning sessions, weekly Meet-the-People Sessions and a cross-cultural overseas trip at the end of the year.
These morning sessions last around one and a half hours, when you’ll attend guided lessons on political theories and concepts such as nationalism and identity by Benedict Anderson, and the public sphere by Jürgen Habermas. You’ll also touch on matters concerning a state’s stake in International Relations and how this affects their domestic policies. Woven into these conceptual theories are discussions on current affairs, both in the local and the global context. You’ll receive readings and are at times required to make their own presentations based on their assigned readings to the class. For many of my batchmates, these lessons were breeding grounds for the germs of their political understanding and allowed them to analyse news events happening throughout the year.
To add on to the morning discussions, students involved in this programme are also attached to a ward to attend 10 sessions of the Meet-the-People (MPS) session. The experience for this segment of the programme varies for everyone as it is dependent on the varying context and demographics of the ward one is assigned to. Typically, students attend the Meet-the-People session once a week on a weekday evening, and are tasked to type letters on the residents’ request. Through these sessions, the students are able to gain a better understanding of the needs and concerns of the residents in their assigned constituency, as well as the MPS system and its role in Singapore’s governance system. The students are challenged to evaluate what they experience at these MPS sessions and will return to share about them during their sessions on Monday morning.
Overseas Immersion Trip to South Korea
GCEP 2014 visited South Korea at the end of the year to learn about the cultures and ideas behind the South Korean system in the most autochthonous way. Places visited include the demilitarised zone or the Panmunjeon, Songdo Industrial Estate, Gyeongbok Palace, and the Seoul City Hall amongst many others.
The immersive 10-day trip provided an overview into South Korea’s national identity and history, as well as it political processes, lending a novel take into the rudimentary of South Korean life beyond what its media tells us. Visiting the Singapore Embassy also allowed us a look into diplomatic ties with Korea, understanding the principles and history underlying Singapore-Korean relations.
The idea of governance and civic engagement is an ever changing one, and in the period of a year, GCEP provides an adequate amount of exposure and skills-set for one to continue viewing and understanding this ever-changing enigma of how society functions. Led by open-minded and engaging tutors, and provided with the opportunity to meet and work with many of the grassroots leaders, the programme is most enriching in its given opportunity for students to listen to the stories of the many people they get to meet (be it at the MPS sessions, or on the overseas trip). Every GCEP journey is a unique bildungsroman for every individual, whose greatest takeaway may very well be the realisation of the complexities involved in every concept; that for every form of civic engagement there exists a struggle between the theory and the truth.
The Unknown Citizen stings when one thinks of the possibility that we may all be little unknown citizens stuck in our own paradigm. Yet it is in embracing this thought that GCEPers learn to understand a little of this system we exist in. ‘Was he free? Was he happy?’ – There is definitely nothing absurd about these questions, for while these are the very questions GCEPers enter hoping to answer, these are the very questions they learn to keep asking no matter how many answers they get.