Pre-U Seminar participants came from junior colleges, polytechnics and Integrated Programme schools across Singapore.
What does Singapore and being Singaporean mean to you?
For some, it is “the place where I grew up”. For others, national stereotypes like “being kiasu” come to mind.
Starting with these mindsets, students from junior colleges (JCs) across Singapore set off on a learning journey at the 2007 Pre-University Seminar. From 21 to 25 May 2007, the students stayed at the residential halls of Nanyang Technology University (NTU) to explore the theme of “iSingapore: Challenge, Create, Connect”, which looked at the challenges facing Singapore and Singaporeans in this era of a globalised economy and borderless communities.
At plenary sessions, participants articulated their thoughts and exchanged views with industry and community leaders, gaining first-hand insights into how national policies are conceived and carried out. Teams of students also presented research-based case studies, helping each other to acquire a greater appreciation of their role as young Singaporeans who can build a better society.
For the first time at a Pre-U Seminar, mobile technology was used - students could SMS questions to speakers and guests-of-honour, such as RAdm Lui Tuck Yew, Minister of State for Education.
The issues may be new, but the mission of the Pre-U Seminar hails back to 1970, when this student forum began with the aim of cultivating an active interest in current affairs and a broader outlook on political, social and economic issues that affect Singapore. Originally organised for JCs, the Pre-U Seminar was extended to students from polytechnics and Integrated Programme schools from 2007. With themes that reflect the changing times - from “Communism and Democracy” in 1971 to “The Coming of the IT Age” in 1995 - the Pre-U Seminar series has engaged generations of young people in the nation’s past, present and future.
Pioneer JC, which organised the 2007 Pre-U Seminar, also lived up to its name by bringing the event into the digital age. For the first time, research projects were submitted electronically in multimedia formats rather than as static papers. Other new features included a dedicated portal for registration and daily updates on the seminar, and allowing students to SMS their questions to seminar speakers. Topping off the intensive 5-day stint was a special tea session with the President of the Republic of Singapore, Mr S.R. Nathan, at the Istana on 24 May.
Seminar participants had the opportunity to meet President S R Nathan at the Istana.
Students also took part in active team-building projects that called for resourcefulness, people skills and esprit de corps. Industry partners provided state-of-the-art tools such as laptops, digital animation software and audio-visual equipment to help the teams present their findings with creativity and impact.
Students were given one of two project tasks. “Singapore Outwards! - The Centre of Excellence” examined the strategies that Singapore had taken to remain economically competitive and internationally respected as a hub of excellence.
The second task, “Singapore Through The Looking Glass” was more introspective and tackled the question, “What makes us Singaporean”. Students had to ask what makes Singapore a “home” and what it means to be Singaporean, using aspects of local life such as language and literature, food, film and theatre, icons and quintessentially Singaporean quirks. Teams had the chance to speak to local personalities such as film director Eric Khoo, celebrity chef Violet Oon, composer Dick Lee, TV artiste Gurmit Singh and former national swimmer Joscelin Yeo to learn how these individuals see themselves and their work as being “Singaporean”.
Lim An Qi of Pioneer JC worked on a case study on Hwa Chong International School. For her, this experience brought to life the much-cited metaphor of Singapore being a melting pot “with various races and people from different backgrounds living together” and sharing learning experiences. Another aspect of life in Singapore she explored was apathy and volunteerism. “We interviewed many volunteers and got them to share about their experiences in volunteering and encourage fellow youths to experience it for themselves. After the seminar, I no longer feel that Singaporean youths are apathetic about current affairs,” she added.
Project teams researched and presented skits on aspects of life in Singapore such as volunteerism and youth.
Rebecca Chen Shu Ying of Pioneer JC also delved into youth and volunteerism, presenting a skit and short film to show youth volunteerism in action. “We wanted to illustrate that young people in Singapore have compassion for others, and that the spirit of charity is not as absent as it seems.” She added, “They do not merely focus on themselves but rather on society at large.”
This observation rang true as well during the seminar. “Every participant was willing to share opinions and the learning that took place was indescribable,” Rebecca recounted. “The Pre-U Seminar is a place where you will not only make a lot of friends but also learn in the process. I don’t think I’ll ever have a similar experience again.”
For this new year, the Pre-U Seminar will plunge into the theme, “Global City, Home for All”. Organised by Meridian JC, the seminar will take place from 26 to 30 May 2008 at NTU. A fresh cohort of pre-university students will consider how Singapore continues to be an inclusive society, even as the island plugs in to global opportunities to achieve growth and success.