I could scarcely believe my eyes when I read that MP Ang Wei Neng said in Parliament that MOE should send students on mandatory overseas community service trips to rural villages so that youths here better appreciate Singapore’s success, combat the sense of entitlement and inculcate the value of service to others.
Such statements, although well-intended, smack of elitism and a lack of connection to voters. While it is true that going overseas can make one more appreciative of Singapore, this isn’t the way to do it or even say it.
The gripes of many Singaporeans today stem from how Singapore’s success compares with other first world countries. Asking people to compare Singapore against third world countries may bring about a stronger sense of reality of what the world outside Singapore is like, but this is not going to matter much at the polls. The PAP has consistently repeated the message that we have gone from third world to first within one generation. So how can it be fair to compare ourselves against third world places? Does it make sense for the Brazilian football team to compare itself against Hougang United football club?
The students of today are the voters of tomorrow. Mr Ang is doing a good job if he intends to alienate his future voters by claiming that they have a sense of entitlement. It is dangerous to make all-encompassing claims over a diverse body of people. Not all youth have a sense of entitlement. Even for those that do, this isn’t the way to deliver the message into their hearts. There are things that a politician shouldn’t say, which can be better said by third-parties that are not part of the PAP (which could be something like this, even though it is an urban legend).
I can agree with Mr Ang that it is important to have a sense of gratitude and service. If we wish to teach empathy, why do we need to send students overseas for that? There are elderly and/or low-wage Singaporeans who live in rental flats who also need help. If there has to be a structured program for community service, it should start with letting students take care of our own, which also helps them realise that there are people who fall through the cracks of our capitalist society.