By Ashley Ong Le Xin (22S03P)
What defines a nation? Race or religion? A common purpose?
What is social injustice and how does it manifest? What is the neighbourhood effect?
Where can we observe gentrification of spaces in Singapore? What are its impacts?
GCEP is the programme that seeks to answer these questions and more. With a name as wordy as “Governance and Civic Engagement”, GCEP does seem like a complicated mouthful. We are simply, however, a group of 20-odd students who actively share our ideas on a myriad of social issues and love taking apart related concepts and policies.
What weekly sessions are like
What better way to introduce GCEP than to bring you through a typical session? Our sessions are usually held during the Wednesday enrichment timeslot from 1-3pm. During these 2 hours, we hold rigorous intellectual discussions on a slew of social and political issues.
A typical GCEP lesson starts like this: we arrange the tables and chairs into three separate clusters (due to SMMs, small-group discussions are held in fixed groups), open our notebooks and shortly after, our teachers Mr Jason Lai and Ms Victoria Galvez announce the topic of the day.
These topics usually relate to social and political issues revolving around concepts including nationhood, identity and constructive discourse. We have had rich discussions on how the official versus popular narratives may tell different stories in Singapore’s history, and whether there is value in alternative or revisionist histories today. Another issue we have studied is the international politics in the COVID-19 vaccination race. During that session, we explored vaccine nationalism, vaccine dumping and how they may hinder international efforts such as COVAX from alleviating the pandemic.
Occasionally, thanks to the hard work of our teachers-in-charge, external speakers who can give deep insight into specialised topics are invited. One such speaker was Mr Ngan Wei Yeong, teacher-in-charge of Raffles Community Advocates, who introduced us to issues affecting migrant workers in Singapore. Another session featured Ms Park Eun Hee, a North Korean defector who shared her experiences about life in an authoritarian regime and why and how she left.
Through in-depth, rich discussions, GCEPers gain new insight into various systems of governance and the discourse between a government and its people, as well as how national identity and culture develop. We also develop critical thinking skills and learn to see the similar issue from new perspectives.
Collaboration with Jeonju, South Korea
Though many of our discussions have applications to the local context, GCEP is not centred solely around Singapore. The programme has a longstanding partnership with the mayor’s office in Jeonju, the “city of gastronomy” in South Korea. In past years, batches of GCEP students travelled to Jeonju to discover more about South Korean culture and make connections to the ideas we had previously only discussed in class. This also served as a valuable chance to study civic engagement in another country and compare it to our own.
Despite pandemic restrictions putting the trips on hold, there still remain opportunities for us to connect with our partners in Jeonju. This year, the mayor’s staff and the Jeonju High School of Fine Arts worked hard to put up a virtual tour for us, complete with city and school tours, traditional opera singing lessons and a lantern-making session.
Other aspects of the programme
One other area of commitment is Meet-The-People sessions (MPS). Held by the Ministers of Parliament (MPs), MPS is traditionally a significant part of the GCEP experience. In previous years, GCEP students had to fulfill a requirement of volunteering at minimally 10 sessions, though many went on to continue their service. This commitment has been waived since 2020 considering the pandemic situation.
In general, for GCEP there are few take-home assignments or homework given. Nevertheless, students are encouraged to reflect on the new insights gained from the discussions and apply them in their daily lives.
Should you join GCEP?
Perhaps you have a budding interest in social and political issues and enjoy voicing out your opinions and learning from discussions. Perhaps you want to challenge yourself to make connections between socioeconomic concepts and real-world phenomena.
If so, GCEP is the enrichment programme that will open up your mind to new ideas and new ways of thinking. We are looking for curious and inquisitive people who love learning and questioning the status quo. A base knowledge of some current issues and the ability to substantiate your points with examples would also be helpful. Don’t worry, though, about having much prior knowledge about the subject matter, as readings will be provided and teachers will explain the content! When it comes down to it, all you really need to join GCEP is a willingness to listen to others’ ideas and contribute your own.
With that, all the best for your WEP applications! :)