"Society today can be very selfish in nature. We need to learn to help others and by doing that, help ourselves," said Eliza Binte M. Hamarian, 15, a student from Bukit Panjang Government High School.
During the National Secondary School Student Leaders Conference held on 17 April 2013, 680 student leaders from various schools gathered to discuss the social causes they cared about and shared ideas on how to encourage community involvement.
To encourage this spirit of volunteerism and passion for social causes among youths, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) are partnering to develop Community and Youth Leadership (CYL) schools. These schools will receive more support for ground-up initiatives and the Values in Action (VIA) programme in schools. Part of the $100 million National Youth Fund (NYF) will also be used to support these projects.
"I hope that after our students graduate, they will continue to play an active role in building a more gracious and caring Singapore," said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who graced the event with Acting Minister for MCCY and National Youth Council (NYC) Chairman Lawrence Wong.
Today, our society recognises the need for a greater emphasis on character development. Through the Values In Action programme in schools, students learn and put values into practice. By being involved in the community, students meet people from all walks of life and widen their perspective of the society that they are part of.
At the National Secondary School Student Leaders Conference, students discussed their hopes for our society and proposed ideas for community involvement projects.
"The Values In Action programme is not just about taking part in activities but getting students to reflect on what they learn," said Minister Heng.
During the conference, students envisioned Singapore as a gracious society that focuses on values and cares for the disadvantaged.
"We think that togetherness is the first step to success," said Isabelle Tan, 15, from Pasir Ris Crest Secondary School, whose group suggested a night carnival on Racial Harmony Day that will take into consideration the Muslim fasting month and involve families and the community.
At Yuying Secondary School, Secondary 2 and 3 classes are given the opportunity to support an organisation of their choice. Each class would identify their cause, take the initiative to contact organisations and organise a programme that would meet the needs identified.
Sustainability for the Future
Education MInister Heng Swee Keat interacted with students to find out their aspirations for Singapore.
By tapping on the National Youth Council's (NYC) network of community organisations, CYL schools will be more equipped to support ground-up youth initiatives. NYC will also work with pilot CYL schools to understand their focus and approach, before recommending ways to scale up their capacity and customise a programme to benefit the whole school instead of only certain clubs.
"We want schools to take ownership. It's important that the school leaders and teachers feel that this is something they want to do," said Minister Wong.
"The idea is not to add more to the curriculum, but to do it in a more meaningful and impactful way," said Minister Heng, who hopes that pilot schools will share their experiences with others after they have established their programmes.
Students had to work out the details of their proposal for a community involvement initiative and convince others to support it.
MOE and MCCY aim to foster long term partnerships between the schools and community organisations, so as to tackle the problem of ad-hoc projects that are not sustainable. As mentioned during the Budget Debate this year, volunteerism takes a back seat when youths transit from school to working life, as they juggle new demands and priorities. MCCY hopes that this partnership will encourage the spirit of volunteerism and equip youths with necessary skills to sustain their passion.
"By getting the school integrated with the community and youth organisations earlier, we hope that students will continue with their volunteerism after they leave school," said Minister Wong.
"I think this will be helpful because we won't have to spend a lot of time scouring the Internet to try and find information on community organisations," said Quek Xin Pei, 15, a student from Yuying Secondary School, who has been involved in planning community projects with her class.