“One avenue is SGCares, the national movement to get Singaporeans to help the less fortunate, she said” (Visit to Museum, Theatre to be New ‘Shared Experience’, Siau Ming En).
Amidst the discourse about shared experiences – through attendance of the National Day Parade rehearsal and the five-day Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) expedition camp (TODAY, Feb. 18), for instance – even though the focus on young Singaporeans is correct, more can be done to encourage interactions between students of different schools, and thereafter to emphasise the value of volunteerism or community service beyond the school. In other words, shared experiences are more likely to resonate in the long-term if individuals are pushed out of their comfort zones, are forced to deal with diversity and adversity, as well as think outside their own circumstances, so as to develop empathy, greater civic engagement, and cognisance of socio-economic issues in the country.
At the moment, the school remains the site of intervention. And understandably so. Values in Action (VIA) – a more recent reincarnation of the Community Involvement Programme (CIP), which rendered school or community service mandatory – is implemented more efficiently because teachers can arrange for activities according to classes or co-curricular activities, before following up with reflections or administrative duties. Yet missing from these are more opportunities for students to go out of their own schools to work with other students from different backgrounds and with different experiences. Through a leadership development programme when I was in secondary school, I worked with students from other schools on a service-learning project with Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association, where I benefited from my peers and the beneficiaries than I contributed.
In fact – given criticisms of academic stratification across schools and perceived gaps in Singapore’s competitive education system – this notion of inter-school collaboration is also applicable to other programmes such as the OBS too.
And there is further work to be done, to boost rates of volunteerism among Singaporeans. The 2014 Individual Giving Survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre found that fewer than one in five Singaporeans volunteered – or just 17.8 per cent – volunteered in the past 12 months then, and the figure has not had sustained increases since 2000. Singapore was the 28th most generous country on the World Giving Index 2016, released by the Charities Aid Foundation, but fewer are volunteering their time and efforts for causes. In this vein, VIA and CIP are useful springboards for students to get started, to widen their perspectives and contributions in the community, yet unless the endeavours are sustained, shared experiences will count for little in the long run.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.