By Goh Chin Lian, Senior Political Correspondent
FRESH from a study trip to China last month, the youth wing of the People's Action Party is taking a leaf from the Communist Youth League in political education and leadership development.
The Young PAP (YP) will put in place a training system that will turn a new party recruit into an activist and, eventually, a leader.
It will develop a curriculum that taps on the experience of seasoned branch activists and imparts a range of skills - from engaging the new media to effective letter writing for those handling residents' requests at the Meet The People Sessions.
These new plans were revealed yesterday at an event to mark the fifth anniversary of what is called the YP 'school'. This is an annual two-day camp at which there is centralised training of YP members.
There, members learn the party's philosophy, as well as take part in bonding activities.
Nearly 400 members have had this common experience. This is on top of the usual on-the-job training they get at the 84 party branches islandwide.
But YP leaders drew inspiration for a new 'school' from their trip to Beijing, said YP chairman Teo Ser Luck, who is Senior Parliamentary Secretary in the ministries of Community Development, Youth and Sports, and Transport.
They learnt, for instance, that their Chinese counterparts had an even more established system of leadership development and political education, one that grounded party members in party philosophy and party history from the outset.
A key element in the Chinese system is the party school of the central committee of the Communist Party of China, the highest institution for training members in leadership at the national level.
Professors at the school in Beijing teach full- time courses in topics such as economics and human resource management.
Mr Teo pointed out one difference between YP and the Youth League: The latter has greater financial muscle and a membership base of some 75 million people.
YP does not publicise its membership but it has been estimated at 6,000.
Keen to tap on the League's expertise, Mr Teo said YP will form working groups with it to examine similar challenges, such as attracting new members.
Asked if he was worried about YP associating with a Communist organisation, Mr Teo said: 'We're not worried because it's the governing party and Singapore-China relations are so close. We don't talk about political philosophy.'
YP recruits between 600 and 700 new members a year. One new member is Mr Martin Tan, co-founder of Halogen Foundation Singapore, a non-profit organisation that trains youth for leadership.
Mr Teo first saw him over a year ago giving a motivational talk to students.
Impressed by his ability to inspire the youth, Mr Teo persuaded him to join the party in October last year, and now, to head the revamped YP 'school'.
Outlining his plans, Mr Tan, 32, said the 'school' is now developing its curriculum. He will survey branch secretaries next month on the training they think activists will need.
As the 'school' will be 'self-financing', he hopes to enlist their help, as well as YP members, to conduct the training.
In a question-and-answer session after his presentation, YP members raised the issue of their role in the party.
One felt that YP executive committee members tended to be exclusive in the past and did not involve other members in their deliberations. Another asked for more space for alternative views.
Mr Teo, who was appointed YP chairman last November, agreed on the need to include more activists in party work. This is why he has made sure each sub-committee must be led by one executive committee member and one activist.
He was supportive of giving space to a diversity of views, he said, 'as you never know who is spot on'.
But he noted that in some branches, older members may not take the views of younger members. The views of both groups are important, but bridging this gap will take time, he said, adding: 'I'm meeting branch secretaries to share the YP plan.'
He said his selection of a new member like Mr Tan to head the 'school' is another case in point about being open to new ideas.
Said Mr Teo: 'He speaks openly about many different issues.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.