Friday, July 30, 2004

what lies ahead

i know i promised to craft a post on DPPS at the end of the week, and i shall indeed, but look for it over at the LJ, where in the next two days or so i should post something education related. in the meantime, i think i'll post some impressions and 'important takeaways' (as the civil service calls it -which prompted someone to write 'food' on the evaluation) from this week at IPS.

a quick introduction for those of you who don't know: the Developments in Public Policy Seminar is a week-long seminar that is part of the midcourse programme for Public Service Commission scholars (of which i am one). other than allowing us to catch up with old friends from JC, secondary school, and in some cases, primary school, DPPS is intended to give us, at the midpoint or so of our college careers, some idea of what is going on in policy-making circles in Singapore and keep us in touch with our future careers and bosses. to that end, we spend five days cooped up in a room with each other while people from various ministries -Trade and Industry, and Finance, from the economic cluster; Community Development and Sport, and Education, from the social cluster; and Foreign Affairs as well as Defence from the security cluster- came and briefed us on various policy issues.

as far as learning new things about policy-making, i don't think i took away very much. perhaps more questions were posed than answered by the various people in the ministries. but that doesn't mean i didn't learn lots of other things. i sort of miss having to wake up at the asscrack of dawn to get down to NUS on time for the morning sessions, and seeing my friends, and the food. and the not being at work. but most of all, i miss the exchanges both in and out of the seminar room between the scholars. despite the fact that we are all similar in many ways -hence the Commission picking us all those years ago-, the two or three years spent in various colleges in different parts of the world has sufficiently changed and broadened our opinions and attitudes toward different issues in education, national security, and economics enough that a lively debate almost always -if allowed- ensued. that, for me, was the most valuable part of the seminar - learning how my fellow civil servants thought, and what they felt was important, and how things needed to be changed, and as a group, what we were apathetic toward and what we were passionate about. (the role of government in society, for one thing, and the role of the media for another. also, the notion of happiness in society, in case you were interested.) i discovered that for the most part i really like the people that i met and will be working with in the future, and even the ones that i had no reason to like personally i respect for their opinions and their views on what is important in government. they made me look at things in different ways and from different angles, and that really made me reassess my position on various things, raising many new questions that i hadn't thought about before. (we clearly haven't been together long enough for a groupthink to evolve)

of course, there were other important experiences as well: the two learning journeys, far from being a waste of time, worked as real eyeopeners for me. i'd never before this seminar visited a prison or an Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in Singapore, and i was favourably impressed by both of them. the ITE in particular i really enjoyed, because it gave me a good look at the side of the singaporean education system that i don't often see. having come from the gifted education programme, and gone on to some of the finests schools in the country, i haven't been much exposed to the kids who have been streamed into the normal(academic) and normal(technical) tracks. it's heartening to see that the system does provide for their continued education and training, and the ITE seems to be doing its level best to make sure their kids get opportunities not just to get jobs when they graduate with an ITE cert, but also to continue to polytechnics and university afterwards, if they prove capable of it.

the roundup Big Debate this afternoon, conducted shortly before MOS Vivian Balakrishnan appeared to talk to us, provided a good end point for the seminar. we got to talk about the role of government in society and in creating or transmitting social norms, as well as the media and human rights and happiness (and the measurement thereof), as well as the political landscape of the future, and the question of apathy -politically and toward life in general. i felt that (at least my group) we were willing to take on the big questions and look at some fundamentals and some normative questions, despite the discussion time being really sort of waaaaay the hell too short.

so those are my impressions and 'takeaways' from DPPS this week. we'll all see each other again on National Day when we show up for the parade (tickets were issued today), but til then, i think you've heard the last of DPPS news on this blog. (check back, as i said, with the other one for some more content and policy focused posts)


At 6:21 AM, July 31, 2004, Blogger The Legal Janitor said...

I'd just like to point out something about your ITE and prison visit that you may have not considered. In the SAF, there is this thing we call "wayang". Thus, when things all seem fine and dandy, especially in the presence of VIPs, it could be due to the wayang effect.

Since I wasn't there personally I can't tell you for sure whether there was any wayanging or not. If Mindef is any indication of the civil service however, you can bet your bottom dollar that there's a 99.99% chance some serious wayanging was going on.

I notice that officers and the aristocrats in general tend to be oblivious to this effect. I humbly suggest that you might consider that a possibility in your case.

Apart from groupthink, the other worry is what I call the "expert" fallacy. People who think that since they are "experts" in something, they can therefore accomplish great things, like social engineering. I suggest reading this book by Surowiecki. Might help put things in perspective.

The notion that government should create or transmit social norms irks me. I'm a libertarian at heart, and Big Brother telling me what's kosher and what's not really doesn't thrill me too much.

Btw, the first comment I ever posted on your blog is here. I realised that maybe because it was an old post, you might not have noticed the comment, so here I bring it to your attention. =D

Your blog is good reading. =D

At 5:34 PM, July 31, 2004, Blogger J. said...

hi shianux =)

thanks for the comment. =) i have no doubt whatsoever that there's some wayanging going on, esp in during the prisons visit - clearly we only got to see the better bits of the prisons. that said, however, taking into consideration that things are cleaned up somewhat for us (not that cleaned up, since we are nowhere near VIP status, frankly), it's still quite surprising for me that the system does take reasonable care to look after the less-likely-to-be-high-fliers people. (ok, that wasn't terribly coherent. =p)

At 4:07 AM, August 01, 2004, Blogger The Legal Janitor said...

nahhh, you're alright on the coherence. I don't even disagree with you. Just wanted to offer a possible scenario, and maybe irritate you a bit. lol


At 12:09 PM, August 03, 2004, Blogger J. said...

oh, and just so you know - the site feed has been turned on :)


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