By Xuan Zi Han (19A01A)
“Questions like what’s the use of ‘I pledge allegiance’ without understanding? Like why is it so easy to divert thoughts and implant others? Like what is freedom and why is it so hard to explain? The Children’s Story keeps asking me all sorts of questions I cannot answer. Perhaps you can — then your children will…”
This is how The Children’s Story, written by British-American author James Clavell, concludes, and how our 2018 GCEP cycle started and continued — with a tinge of scepticism and an invitation for collective inquiry.
What the MEP is About
Governance and Civic Engagement Programme, or GCEP for short, is a highly rigorous and intellectual stimulating MEP that enables students to understand various systems of governance, and investigate social issues related to culture, national identity, history, and narrative. It comprises three sub-parts: Monday lessons, Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS), and the year-end enrichment trip, which all contribute in their own ways to fulfilling the dual learning objectives.
Every Monday morning, we engage in 1.5-hour lessons that expose us to a variety of social and political issues. Anchored by our understanding of the concept of nationhood as both a tangible entity and also an imagined community, we embark on discussions concerning significant aspects of what constitutes a nation.
For instance, we consider how a nation decides to commemorate and memorialise its war history — in striving to establish a sense of national identity, it inadvertently (or even deliberately?) includes and excludes narratives to present a particular perspective of its past. For another, we examine the notion of culture, and attempt to address concerns such as socio-ethical issues with regards to cultural preservation as well as the politics of culture wars.
From time to time, external speakers may also feature to further enhance our appreciation for political mechanisms in society. For instance, Ms Soh, who used to teach at the economics department in RI (Y5-6), introduced us to the rational choice theory as an economic framework that undergirds voting behaviour. Drawing from her personal experiences studying in Switzerland, she insightfully explained the Riker & Ordeshook model that considered the expected utility of voting (which determines election turnout) as a multi-layered interaction between many social and personal factors.
Suffice to say, given the sheer breadth and depth of what was covered in class, we learnt as much as we were ready to put in, and always left the classroom with more questions than answers. This is perhaps also why, though the prospect of waking up every Monday may seem daunting, many of us found the programme fulfilling, due to the interactive classroom environment that promotes critical thinking and open-mindedness.
Clearly the highlight of GCEP, the year-end trip brings students to an overseas location to further explore the theoretical concepts and ideas previously shared by our teachers and fellow peers. In the Nov/Dec holidays last year, we visited South Korea and its many unique political and cultural sites, including the DMZ and KBS Studio, among others.
Furthermore, we had valuable opportunities to meet and engage with political profiles like the Jeon-ju city mayor Kim Seung-Su and extraordinary individuals from Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR).
Through these experiences, we were able to reflect more deeply on issues such as the appropriation and commodification of culture, state-society relations, political neutrality, and national identity.
Who We Are Looking For
If you are someone whose doubts linger upon exposure to a social issue, who enjoys asking questions about the status quo, and who hopes to refine your opinions through discussions and mutual critique, then GCEP is undoubtedly for you! Through the programme, not only have we become more critical thinkers, but also more self-reflexive of our own positionality, which, as yours sincerely opines, is an increasingly important soft skill in today’s polarised political landscape.
With that, we wish you all the best in your applications and the programme!