“Mr. Yeo said it infuses in them certain values ‘so that when they grow up, there are many things which they will do on their own without fearing that if they don’t, they’ll be fined, or doing something because they hope they’ll get an advantage or an incentive’” (Community Work Good For Students, Miss Melissa Pang).
The report “Community Work Good For Students” (July 11, 2010) by Miss Melissa Pang: the Community Involvement Programme (CIP) was instituted by the Ministry of Education (MOE) a decade ago with the purpose of introducing students to the notion of volunteerism, and to get youths involved and desirous of contributing back to the society. But has the relevant benefits been genuinely yielded?
The greatest worry at the tertiary level is that a lot of the motivation for community projects and SL initiatives does not originate or develop from genuine altruism: many students are cognisant of the fact that the “community service” factor has become an integral part of the college and scholarship application process. Naturally, the decision to develop a campaign or partner a beneficiary is attached with a pragmatic and self-serving mentality; and the individuals blindly go through the motion to get the hours and accolades. Are we certain that the current system is nudging them in the right direction? The administration laments the absence of adult volunteers; yet it is plain obvious that these students simply drop their commitments when they no longer see the incentives to continue. A simple study should show that volunteerism is low on the priority list for many of the working professionals who had gone through the CIP previously.
Even institutions and educators have been sucked into this vortex of blind pursuit and adherence to CIP with misguided intentions. Besides the aspirations to clinch awards at national or international service-learning competitions, many schools have hopped onto the bandwagon of overseas CIP because of the glam factor. While it is true that the cultural exchange on these trips would be mildly beneficial for the participants, teachers must let their students – especially those of a younger age – comprehend that even as their efforts may be commendable, the actual net benefit may be limited. Inspiration is great; but we must not delude them with ideas of grandeur, and let them revel blindly in their so-called contributions thinking they have changed the world significantly.
For the disinterested, the compulsory six-hours would merely be an exercise in redundancy; clearly, there is insufficient effort directed towards this group of youths who see no point in the entire programme. Even if altruism can only be developed through free will, at the very least, they should be exposed to the multitude of opportunities. Quantitatively, perhaps the minimum number of hours can be gradually increased to create more impetus; qualitatively, increase the diversity of possibilities at the beginning so that interest can be slowly built up from there.
There must be a step-up approach when it comes to community service and volunteerism, with programmes more catered to the needs of the students based on their age-groups and interests. Not surprisingly, the most genuine and constructive service projects have been conducted outside of the pedantic CIP system; where students and mentors engage personally in organisations and agencies without strings attached. It is high time for MOE to re-evaluate the existing CIP, determine the flaws and weaknesses, and get it back on track with its original intentions and purposes.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.