Updated: Mar 7
Question: Do you think that legal status, identity or participation is more important for a citizen? Explain your answers using examples. (8m)
a. Legal Status
Citizens can be recognized through their legal status in the country. Legal status refers to the official proof of a citizen belonging to a country. This proof is in the form of a physical document like a passport, an identity card, a driving license, etc. People can gain their legal status because they are born in the country, marry a local person, or if their parents are locals in the country. Once they gain legal status, citizens will have rights and responsibilities in the country. Every citizen is entitled to rights to freedom, affordable healthcare, affordable education, the right to be protected and be safe. For instance in Singapore, education for citizens is compulsory and heavily subsidized by the government from a young age. An average citizen attending government schools hardly pay any money from Primary 1 to Junior College. On the other hand, citizens are also responsible to for certain things. They have to contribute economically when they become working adults by working and paying their taxes. Citizens are also obliged to defend the country. In Singapore, all male citizens must perform their National Service once they reach 18 years of age and they must continue to serve as reservist once they complete their full-time National Service. Citizens are also expected to obey the laws of the country and to be respectful towards other races and religion in Singapore. Hence, gaining legal status is important for people who want to become citizens of a country.
b. Common Identity
It is also important for all citizens and people living permanently in Singapore to forge a common identity. This refers to common points in people's daily lives such as national symbols, language, the nation's history, national consciousness, and culture. Developing a common identity is important because it can prevent the rise of social tensions and divide in a country and instead bond a country’s people together to work towards the betterment of the country. In Singapore, we strive to create a common identity through common experiences, common practices and common spaces where people live. Common experiences usually refer to long term events that a large group of people is put through. For instance, schooling in Singapore for all children. All children in Singapore go through at least 10 years of compulsory education in mainstream schools. During these 10 years, every study almost the same subjects and are immersed in the history and culture of the country. Children also engage in common practices, which are regular routines, such as singing of the National Anthem and reciting of the National Pledge. Through these common practices, our children develop a sense of patriotism and pride for the country. They also learn about the diverse range of children from all races, nationalities and religion. As a result, after 10 years of this schooling experience, our children develop common points of understanding and pride in Singapore. Another good example of common experience in Singapore is National Service where all18 year old males are put through 2.5 years of compulsory military service. Besides using common experiences and practices, Singapore also uses common living spaces to promote integration of its people towards a common identity. For example, we have the Ethnic Integration Policy which requires all Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats to have a certain ratio of Chinese, Malays, Indians and other races as their residents. The ratio is 70% Chinese, 20% Malays and 10 Indians and other races. In this way, people of different races and religion interact and get to know each other better. During National Events, they can also come together to forge common bonds together. All these build a strong sense of common identity which can be important for the country.
Citizens can also participate in making society better. They can participate by contributing directly to improving something in the country or they can participate by influencing government decisions to improve society. Contributing to society refers to direct actions taken by people living in Singapore to improve the well-being of under-privileged groups of people such handicap children, elderly or very poor people. People can also contribute directly to improving the lives of animals (for instance working with SPCA) or the environment. Direct contribution can be in the form of charity donations, volunteering at homes and association, or simply spending time walking about Singapore to make the environment better. For example, many people contribute by joining the Singapore Youth Corps to assist in worthy projects like Project Happy Club and Meals on Wheels where they help connect with seniors to make their lives happier and also move around Singapore to bring food to the needy in Singapore. Citizens can also participate by influencing government decision by giving direct feedback to various government Ministries, writing into forum on the Straits, taking part in focus group discussions organized by the government, forming groups to study social issues facing Singapore, and submitting reports and recommendations for the government to consider. By contributing directly and influencing government decision, citizens are taking an active role to participate in nation building.
In my opinion, I think that having national identity is more important to the citizens of the country. When citizens develop a sense of pride and identity for their country, they will often be inspired to start contributing and participating in activities that will benefit the nation or other citizens of the nations. For examples, many new citizens were inspired by our National Day celebrations to go beyond their comfort zone to begin helping people from underprivileged areas. On the other hand, simply having legal status does not mean that citizens will become real citizens who will help others.