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Of pre-university students and CIP

I was flabbergasted last Friday when I read1about the student volunteer who collected the donation tin and, instead of going around asking for donations, went home, put some coins into the tin and then took it with him when he lunched with his parents. At the appointed time, he returned the tin to the collection point.

That act of his satisfied the minimum six hours of the community involvement programme (CIP) that pre-university students had to do each year for points needed to enter university.
In putting in place the compulsory CIP activity, the Ministry of Education (MOE) had a greater goal in mind - that of imbuing in students sound values and developing in them strength of character. But, calculative students managed to circumvent the good intentions of the programme and the CIP ended up a victim of some students' self-serving motives.
In the end, MOE had to put to rest the idea of making CIP compulsory for all pre-university students. Now, junior colleges and centralised institutes have autonomy in integrating CIP into their curriculum to best meet and respond to the needs and interests of their students. But CIP will remain an integral component of the JC curriculum.
The Education Minister said in Parliament recently that the change "will encourage students to take greater ownership over these activities, follow their passions and build camaraderie, rather than engage for the sake of gaining points for university admission".
We can take heart that CIP remains compulsory for primary and secondary students. It may be too late to inculcate in pre-university students desired attributes, but, there is hope yet that given time, the younger ones will gel on to the idea of authentic and enriching involvement in the community.
A day after the article appeared, I was having afternoon tea in a fast-food restaurant at Burlington, next to Sim Lim Square, when I saw a score of upper secondary students from Maris Stella High School soliciting for donations for the Children's Medical Fund.
The boys were stationed at various spots around the area. They caught my attention because they were moving around in the hot afternoon sun although covered walkways were within reach. Yet, they didn't seem the least bothered by the searing heat, for their minds were single-mindedly focused on the passers-by thronging the area.
These boys from Maris Stella were busy running up to the young and the old. You could see the eagerness in their faces as they went about their task. Each approach was energetic, and though some pedestrians did not donate, the boys were not disheartened.
In these boys, I saw the same enthusiasm which gripped me as a secondary student some thirty years ago when I was selling flags for charity. These boys from Maris Stella were certainly not of the same grain as the one who took the donation tin to lunch with his parents.
So, there is hope for the younger set of Singaporeans. We may be able to count on the younger ones to embrace CIP with the right mindset.
That schools have to turn to making CIP compulsory in the first place shows up a weakness in the typical Singaporean family unit. Parents have to take responsibility for the way our students turn out. How they are raised at home, their experiences and relationships with their family members will shape their character. Schools cannot do it alone.
1. The Straits Times 11 Mar 2005 (1)


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14 March 2005