Community service has been an integral aspect of the education in Singapore, especially in recent years when there has been a proliferation of service projects and campaigns initiated by students and youths alike. The Community Involvement Programme (CIP), initiated in 1997, has since spawned off a multitude of subsidiary schemes, including Service-Learning (SL) and Overseas Community Involvement Programme (OCIP).
To me, community service and volunteerism have a couple of principles. Contributors would be granted opportunities to interact and exchange, and hence develop enhanced appreciation, understanding and empathy of their counterparts and fellow Singaporeans. Volunteerism of this sense would be altruistic, and carried out by individuals who genuinely have a passion for their cause. On the other hand, the beneficiaries would be able to enjoy the tangible benefits from the assistance rendered, and lent a helping hand. This would be especially helpful for households or people who might be disadvantaged in different ways; and might require varying forms of concern and care.
Nevertheless, it is clear that many students have lost touch with the real objectives of community service and volunteerism. With the increasing focus and emphasis on the need for a “balanced” and “strong” portfolio or curriculum vitae, it has become evident that more and more students are only in the scheme of things for pragmatic recognition and achievements, especially amongst those in Institutes of Higher Learning. On the other end of the spectrum, many do not even know what they are committed to; compelled only by requirements from the teachers, school and ministry in general. This lack of purpose renders the activities and initiatives meaningless, since there is no recognition on the eventual outcomes of the projects. Therefore, there are a few areas which I think should be looked into.
1. Extensive Study and Survey of the Current CIP System in Schools. Ever since the inception of CIP, there has rarely been extensive and supported studies to analyse whether the programme has yielded genuine benefits, and what are the general sentiments on the ground so as to evaluate the effectiveness of the current scheme. This would provide valuable evidence to back up existing conjectures so that proper measures can be adopted. This would be an important first step, which can be administered by the National Youth Council (NYC) with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.
2. Develop a More Elaborate System to “Evaluate” Students’ Involvement in Terms of Quantity and Quality. The current CIP system only requires each student to contribute 6 hours of service every years (some schools have mandated it to 20 hours). Not only does it measure quantity per se, this quantity is grossly understated and deficient. Barack Obama, during his US presidential campaign, had proposed 50 hours for High School students and 100 hours for College students. Singapore should not only increase the number of hours, the hours should be structured to encompass different forms of volunteerism (direct service, fund-raising, as well as awareness and capacity-building), so that students can be exposed to a variety of activities and initiatives, rather than narrowly focusing on an individual component.
3. Create an Online Database and Repository For VWOs, NGOs and Service Projects. With an assortment of involvements and causes, it is often difficult for students and organisations to track progresses. Moreover, the dynamic nature of Service-Learning means that there is a tendency for projects to overlap in objectives and missions. Hence, a proper station for individuals to exchange and converse would allow greater efficiency and effectiveness, and allow room for negotiations.