Don't wave placards, offer solutions instead

Don't wave placards, offer solutions instead
Professor Tan Thiam Soon, President of the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).

SINGAPORE - Encouraging undergraduates to be engaged in society raises the question of whether a line should be drawn between developing a social conscience and engaging in political activism.

One who draws such a line on campus is Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) president Tan Thiam Soon.

He sees the role of his university as training "thinking tinkerers", who connect what they learn in class to the needs of the community - and contribute in practical ways.

He says: "If they want to champion activism totally unrelated to what they study, we will probably tell (them), 'Very interesting, very good, but do it outside your curriculum'."

National University of Singapore political science lecturer Reuben Wong points to the backdrop of the University of Singapore as a hotbed of activism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Then, students clashed with the Government over restrictions that it said were needed to guard against communist influences. Today's university leaders emphasise that students need to obey the law of the land - such as unlawful assembly - and avoid polarising the campus.

Better still, provide a feasible solution to the problem instead of waving placards.

There is also less of a need to take to the streets, notes Associate Professor Wong, as young people have many ways to engage the Government and civil society, from social media to the Speakers' Corner. "It's not like the Arab Spring where people have so few channels they go to the streets," he says.

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