SINGAPORE: ST Media Club students get to talk to Tharman

They flood Acting Education Minister with questions during a 'press conference' to mark launch of the club

The Straits Times
Wednesday, December 10, 2003

By Lynn Lee

Students turned journalists yesterday, keeping their newsmaker, Acting Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, busy for more than an hour fielding their questions at a 'press conference'.

And they did not stop after that, cornering him for interviews at a tea reception.

The occasion was the official launch of The Straits Times Media Club at News Centre in Toa Payoh North, where 107 students from 27 secondary schools congregated for a three-day camp to pick up reporting, writing, photography and videography skills from ST journalists.

They heard from the minister that he had once toyed with the idea of becoming a newspaper editor too, having worked in publications during his undergraduate days.

He spoke about how young people had to learn to question more and to 'approach all knowledge with scepticism'.

'Question what you read and hear,' he said.

'Sift through it with an open and critical mind and decide for yourself what makes sense. If you don't question what exists, you don't think of new ways of doing things.'

And question him they did.

Fresh from workshops by ST News Editor Bertha Henson and Education Correspondent Sandra Davie, they asked him about the O levels, the need for a school ranking exercise and streaming - even whether the ministry was merely paying 'lip service' in its quest for change.

One student reminded the minister that he had not answered one of his questions.

'You're picking up the tricks of the trade,' Mr Tharman quipped.

And as he gamely answered more than 20 questions, nine student photographers clicked away, vying to be the one who would produce the picture to be presented to him later in the day.

That honour went to Kane Wheatley-Holder, 16, of Yuan Ching Secondary, who snapped a shot of Mr Tharman talking to two students.

'I was lucky to chance upon the moment; the lighting was good and he looked really interested in what the students were saying,' he said.

The rest were given a midnight deadline to submit an article via e-mail.

Said Fairfield Methodist Secondary student Carissa Hong, 13: 'It's quite stressful because I still have my tuition homework to do.'

To which Singapore Press Holdings head of editorial projects and branding Peter Khoo said: 'This is as real life as they can get. We're making them mimic as closely as possible what real journalists do.'

The press conference was chaired by ST Editor Han Fook Kwang, who referred to his experience with a school newspaper in Raffles Institution more than 30 years ago.

He told of how he had to solicit for advertisements, and write and sell the newspaper to fellow students.

'When people pay the price of the newspaper, it means they appreciate what you are doing,' he told the students.

Rifdi Rafiuddin, 16, of Victoria School, came away with a better idea of what it takes to be a journalist.

'You have to think fast on your feet, and figure out which questions are important enough to be asked.'

A total of 32 schools have signed up to belong to the ST Media Club. Another 10 to 12 have indicated their interest in joining it.