Focusing the academic lens: New course offers a critical lens to help students understand Singapore Politics

6 July 2021

By Daniel Lee

“Politics conditions our horizon and the possibilities within, and it affects all of us,” said Yale-NUS College Lecturer of Social Sciences (Political Science) Dr Bjorn Gomes, who recently taught a new course at the College titled Singapore Politics.

“Everyone should have an understanding of their political environment. Situated as we are in Singapore, a course on local politics is of vital importance,” he added.

Dr Gomes (standing) introduced the course Singapore Politics in 2021, which provides students with an academic framework to understand Singapore politics institutionally and thematically. Image taken by Darren Ang for Yale-NUS College.

Dr Gomes intentionally designed the course to start with narratives concerning Singapore’s history, the Constitution, the rule of law, institutional transformations and their intersections, before moving to themes of interest which he identified as “most pressing to the minds of young Singaporeans.”

Students facilitating the discussion on one of the themes explored in the Singapore Politics course. Image taken by Darren Ang for Yale-NUS College.

Johann Wah (Class of 2022) said, “Through learning how to interpret the Singapore constitution, I realised how fundamental this is to understand how our Parliament works. This institutional understanding is key to our discussion of political arguments.”

For Kankon Sen (Class of 2021), she believed that as a young voter, it was important to have a concrete understanding of local political issues and policies. “Especially since I’m a Singaporean who went to an international school, my prior understanding of Singapore politics was based on a very basic understanding of Singapore’s history and the news,” she said.

While designing the course to be interdisciplinary and accessible to students regardless of major, Dr Gomes also sought to provide a depth of understanding about Singapore’s politics that would enable students to engage with the local political system critically and academically.

Arjun Jayaraman (Class of 2021) also shared that “the course is powerful in a way, where every topic and issue could be linked to one another. So as we go through each week, you see how everything is interconnected.”

Arjun (far right) listening to presentations at the Singapore Politics course. Image by Darren Ang for Yale-NUS College.

“My favourite part of the class is having the opportunity to discuss difficult issues without devolving into endless arguments. My peers are not afraid to ask difficult questions, which I think is important. It creates an environment where we’re all trying to learn more together and I really enjoy that,” said Arjun.

In subsequent iterations of his course, Dr Gomes hopes to be able to conduct activities beyond the classroom, such as a fieldtrip to the Singapore Parliament once the COVID-19 pandemic situation ameliorates. In the meantime, students in this semester’s course had the opportunity to attend a series of talks hosted by the College’s Speaker’s Corner, a student-led initiative where leaders and experts from the public and private sector and civil society are invited to speak to students on topical issues.   

Kankon shared that these talks were useful in providing an on-the-ground understanding of how Singapore politics works. “It allows you to hear different perspectives from ex-ministers, people in government, people outside the government, and I think that’s a very interesting and practical way to learn about this subject,” she said.