Are youth really not volunteering enough?

Are youth really not volunteering enough?
National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre volunteers getting ready to man Giving Tuesday “pledging stations” set up in Raffles Place last year.

Volunteer work in Singapore ranks only at No. 15 on the list of important goals for young people here, a recent survey found.

Only 12 per cent of the 2,843 young people in Singapore aged 15 to 34 polled by the National Youth Council (NYC) in the 2013 National Youth Survey marked it as "very important" to them.

First on the list was maintaining strong relationships, selected by 74 per cent of respondents.

This was followed by having their own home, at 70 per cent, and then learning new skills and knowledge, at 65 per cent.

Given this mindset, it would seem that youth here probably do not carry out much volunteer work.

But 41 per cent of respondents in the survey did think that it was very important to help the less fortunate and 39 per cent thought contributing to society was also very important.

In fact, a significant portion of young people in Singapore, especially those who are schooling, participate in volunteer activities.

They are more likely to do so than their peers in other developed nations, and their numbers are growing.

An Individual Giving Survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) found that 43 per cent of those aged between 15 and 24, and 28 per cent of those aged between 25 and 34 served as volunteers in 2012.

These rates had risen from the 2010 figures of 36 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.

The volunteerism rates among youth here appear to be higher than those in the United States and Britain - countries whose volunteerism programmes the NYC studied when it was setting up Singapore's national youth volunteer corp.

In the US, only 26.1 per cent of those aged between 16 and 19 and about 18.7 per cent of those aged between 20 and 24 volunteered last year, the US Bureau of Labour Statistics reported.

In Britain, fewer than 30 per cent of young people aged between 10 and 20 years old volunteered in 2013, British think-tank Demos found.

One reason for Singapore's higher, and increasing, rates of volunteerism for school-going youth is the Community Involvement Programme launched in 1997. The programme requires primary, secondary and junior college students to spend time on community work, such as collecting donations on flag day, or helping out at welfare homes and public libraries.

In 2012, the programme was reframed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) as what it called a "value in action" scheme.

Introducing this idea during the 2012 Budget debate, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said: "Schools will be encouraged to develop four-year or six-year development plans in order to move towards more coherent and sustainable learning through community involvement."

He brought up Tanjong Katong Secondary School as an example. He said students of the school had been reaching out to needy families in their neighbourhood for three years, "making a sustained impact on their community".

Under the scheme, the students are asked to reflect both individually and in groups.

Mr Heng said: "They will discuss their experience and the role that they can play in the community. They will reflect on the values they have put into practice and how they can continue to contribute meaningfully.

"Such reflections will reinforce learning, make it more authentic and help students internalise values."

And such schemes may have instilled social conscience in youth here.

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