School elections offer lessons on citizenship

CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School is among a handful of primary and secondary schools here that hold student council elections as part of efforts to give students more say and help them learn more about citizenship.
CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School is among a handful of primary and secondary schools here that hold student council elections as part of efforts to give students more say and help them learn more about citizenship.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Process helps students understand value of leadership and impact of collective decisions

Three young women last week appealed to their peers for their vote, with messages of gratitude, empowerment and sisterhood, while sharing their dreams and vision.

They were just 15 years old.

The trio from CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School (Secondary) were campaigning for the position of student council president.

A handful of primary and secondary schools, like CHIJ St Nicholas Girls', Keming Primary and Queenstown Primary, have been holding such elections as part of school efforts to give students more say and help them learn more about citizenship.

This year's student council president election at CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School came at an opportune time, given the recent buzz in Malaysia's May 9 General Election.

Close to 1,300 students at the school got a chance to experience choosing a leader who would represent them last Friday after a three-day campaign. Teachers from the school were also involved in the voting. Results of the voting will be announced today.

DEVELOPING AWARENESS

Citizenship comes with rights and privileges, and voting in an election helps us to understand this.

LAUREN SIM HSIN WEI, a Sec 4 student from CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School, on the student council president election.

This election process has been in place since 2008 and is in its 11th year. The candidate with the highest number of votes becomes the student council president, while the remaining two candidates will serve as vice-presidents.

The school's head of department for citizenship and character education, Mrs Yvonne Lau, 38, highlighted the importance of grooming leaders who could put into action plans to address the concerns and needs of their peers.

She said: "We emphasise a lot on servant leadership. It's very important that our girls focus not just on their academics, but on holistic development as well."

Mrs Lau added that students need to understand "every one of their votes matters because they are the ones taking ownership of this collective decision. We want to impress upon them that their views and decisions matter".

The campaign lasted three days, from May 15 to 17, during which time the three candidates put up publicity posters and handed out stickers and baked goods.

Together with a campaign team of around 20 student volunteers, each candidate had to manage a campaign not exceeding $50.

The girls employed social media platforms like Instagram and Sarahah, an online feedback platform, to publicise what they stood for and potential initiatives for the school if they were elected president.

Each of the three 15-year-old girls had a different take on how they would improve the school.

Bernice Ng Si Hui emphasised the spirit of sisterhood and bonding between different batches in her campaign, while Samantha Lai Ning Hui hoped for the student council to be the bridge for better communication between school leaders and the student body.

Marasigan Noleen Joy Bonita, on the other hand, called for the equal recognition of all co-curricular activities across the school.

Gabrielle Joy Chua Le Xuan, 15, recalled how she had matured in her thinking since her primary school days of casting her vote for head prefect in the primary section of her school.

Having gained a deeper understanding of elections, she now casts her vote based on how the candidate's promises would impact subsequent batches of students.

She said: "In primary school, I didn't really grasp the thought of voting for the future of my school."

While she used to vote for initiatives for the short term, she now thinks about "voting for the future students who will eventually attend the school and how my vote will make an impact on them".

Calling the school's election process a microcosm of a national election, Secondary 4 student Lauren Sim Hsin Wei, 16, the outgoing vice-president of the student council, said that "citizenship comes with rights and privileges, and voting in an election helps us to understand this".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2018, with the headline 'School elections offer lessons on citizenship'. Print Edition | Subscribe