EA Learning Journal #2 – Interview with a doctor!

An interview with Dr Ramatullah (Hamid Razak Rahmatullah), an Associate Consultant and ex-Chief Resident in the specialty of Orthopaedic Surgery with the Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) was very important as it helped in enlarging my understanding the depths behind the treatment of the migrant workers s. While all of his answers were in great detail, especially regarding the health benefits and drawbacks of the migrant workers s, a point that stood out was his opinion on the government working for the migrant workers s: 


“[Dr Rahmatullah]: Policy-wise, there’s definitely differences how a foreign workers  is treated versus a citizen, for example, and I think at a policy level, at a national level, you must understand that this is not just peculiar to Singapore but it is the same in many other countries as well. So as dogma we cannot be hypocritical, and call out our government for treating our foreign workers differently.”


Dr Rahmatullah has a very contrasting opinion to Braema. Where Braema feels the government is not doing enough for the migrant workers, Dr Rahmatullah feels they are doing as much as they can. He makes it clear that the Singaporean government has been taking measures to provide the migrant workers with sufficient protection and that it is to the best of their ability, considering their status in society. His point of view in my opinion, makes as much sense as Braema’s perspective, as a community we should not have such a high-myopic view or harbour such high standards and expectations. His statement on the role of the government led to the next questions, “Are we paying them too low a wage for the work that they do? If we are paying a low wage how are we then helping them with other aspects of their living conditions?” The feedback from Braema and Dr Rahmatullah did not really go against my opinion but it gave me a new pathway to think about – is the government doing enough for the migrant workers and is providing basic necessities enough to make them feel accepted?


From this interview, I feel like I understood that being treated differently is a given,  and it is really a global phenomenon where a government is expected to treat their citizens well first and then think about the rest of the population. It is unjust to expect a country to treat everyone equally as there is no country that is so generous. 

EA Learning Journal #1 – Contacting Braema Mathi

For my EA, I conducted my first interview with Braema Mathi  who is the former President of the human rights group MARUAH to obtain background knowledge on the migrant workers here in Singapore. Braema is currently greatly involved with the present migrant workers  crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic so I felt this would be a fantastic opportunity to understand the perspective of an activist who has been working with migrant workers for a long time. The workers  crisis in Singapore is about the migrant workers who during the COVID-19 pandemic have faced multiple hardships. With the factories and workplaces shut down due to the lockdown imposed in the country, the migrant workers have had to deal with loss of income, food shortages and uncertainty about their future. Thus, Braema has been working with MARUAH to specifically point out the poor living conditions at foreign workers dormitories. Post-COVID she felt that the recent media coverage of the new COVID-19 clusters in foreign workers dormitories have exposed the bad conditions of these living spaces which are unclean, cramped, and have poor hygiene standards. Through MARUAH, Braema and her team have been trying to promote and raise awareness, knowledge and understanding of human rights and  related issues in Singapore. 


I had the opportunity to interview Braema (through zoom) which I believe allowed me to obtain a broader understanding of the perspective of the migrant workers who have been residing in such unfair living conditions. In the interview, Braema initially explained the history of how Singapore first brought in its migrant workers and how important these workers are today. One of the comments that Braema made was that social class was prevalent in Singapore ever since the country accepted migrant workers. My questions were mostly based on social class in Singapore and cultural bias against migrant workers, and how they were and still are being segregated from our larger community.  In Braema’s opinion, the segregation could only be diminished when the workers received their basic necessities from the government. 


The pandemic has essentially revealed how more than the Singaporean government, it is the Singaporean society which is culturally biased and refuses to accept these migrant workers into their communities. What was most interesting for me during this interview is how far back the cultural bias dates in segregating our Singaporean societies from migrant workers. Additionally it was unsettling to realize the amount of migrant workers in Singapore who are treated as though they are expendable and are expected to only work on site and not live their lives as residents. This interview was definitely eye-opening as it was exposing both the Singaporean society and government for not playing its role as viable employers. 

EA Journal Post

The Global Politics External Assessment requires a hands-on experience to help us grasp a deeper understanding of our projects. For my External Assessment, I want to evaluate the cultural bias in Singapore against the Bangladesh migrant workers preceding and in the aftermath of the COVID virus. I also want to focus on the Singaporean government which has only recently decided to take action towards the protection of the migrant workers through proper shelter (new dormitories) and health security (basic funds which cover daily meals, basic necessities and health insurance). In Singapore, the migrant workers are one of the most marginalised groups, the sub-community expected to work behind the scenes, and disappear from our society after they are done. Although Singapore is extremely multicultural, the population is still segregated through cultural bias. The migrant workers s, unfortunately falling into one of these more excluded and socially judged or scrutinised groups. During this period of pandemic, NGOs have been uncovering the treatment of the migrant workers and now have been working together to provide the workers with more rights. These NGOs are working towards providing the migrant workers s health and economic stability. However, what I want to find out is what more we can do to provide our migrant workers more protection and security. While I was initially introduced to the mistreatment of the migrant workers through the multiple public interviews on sites such as EmancipAsia, I was not surprised to hear that employers and facilities sometimes do not provide money and benefits on time. I was also surprised to know that Singapore’s society in general to a large extent refuses to accept them as a part of the community. This is what led me to become really interested in this political issue due to its links to human rights and justice. I wanted to explore the Singaporean society as I have lived here for most of my life and I would like to further engage my passion towards my Engagement Activity.

CAS Reflection: Origami

At the end of year CAS reflection for Grade 11 I had written that I would want to make an origami presentation of an aquarium of sea animals as a part of the Art and Creativity. During the summer holidays, while I juggled my Extended Essay, Summer School Course at SciencesPo, EA preparation and Global Politics Hl script, it was actually therapeutic to be able to sit down in the afternoon and make these beautiful origami pieces. The greatest challenge for me was to find time. Nevertheless, I am proud of what I have accomplished and I think it looks beautiful. I give here four pictures of my aquarium clicked at various stages of development from beginning to end.

God of Small Things Book Review/Reflection

Over the summer as a part of my book club, I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. A book that is evidently critically acclaimed and full of passages of lyrically vivid descriptions. The visual and auditory imagines are so strong that you can actually experience Ayemenem, in Kerala, India with its myriad of characters that are so realistic that you feel you live with them. But, to be brutally honest I have a grouse against the book and couldn’t agree with its theme. As the title of the book indicates, the novel holds up an alternate reality –  a world that is in the protection of the “God of Small Things”. So, there is a mainstream society which lays down the rules and binds the people to their everyday routine lives and there is the alternate society which exists only perhaps in the imagination of some of the characters which allow human beings to be themselves, to do what they are meant to do. But, my grouse is that it is too negative of a portrayal of mainstream society, specifically of Estha and Rahel’s childhood which is meant to be a time of innocence and fulfilment and also its too much of a “halfway story” which does not really tell me if the alternate world really holds out a promise of happiness. 


Throughout the book, there is evidence of the two worlds that plague the imagination of Estha and Rahel. Initially, they are too innocent to understand that the society in which they place their trust will eventually let them down. So, in chapter 1 Estha thinks “that if they were killed on a zebra crossing the Government would pay for their funerals”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the society which lays down restrictive laws with the implication that if you follow the laws, you’ll be safe, just like walking on a zebra crossing. Only, unfortunately, the same society does not extend protection to you when something goes wrong. So eventually though society forces you to walk the long straight line, there is no comfort provided if things go wrong. Yet another world that Roy explores is the world of the Church, an important element of life in Kerala for the many Christians who live there. At the time of Sophie’s funeral, the priest says “We entrust into thy hands. Most merciful Father, the soul of this our child departed, and we commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Here again, there is the same reference where religion is seen to be a binding force on human beings, something they turn to at the time of trouble and yet it holds out little in terms of comfort or empathy. Thus, Chacko and Margaret not only lose their child but in doing so also lose what they have between them. The same reference to the promise of an illusory happiness is alluded to in the book later when Roy refers to, “Things go better with Coca-Cola”, its the same thing – everything in the past and present of human society, be it religion or powerful western brands, promise happiness, a promise that remains unfulfilled as is evident in the lives of the characters. 


In an extension of the theme of appearance vs reality, Roy brings in a slight variation as she indicates that mainstream culture often gives indications of an alternate world and yet never acknowledges it fully. Thus, she refers to childhood nursery rhymes and lullabies like “Rubadub dub, three women in a tub, tarry a while said Slow” and “I’m Popeye the sailor man dum dum, I live in a cara-van dum dum, I op-en the door, and fall-on the floor. I’m Popeye the sailor man dum dum”. In both the song lyrics the existence of a more passionate, sexual world is hinted at and yet children are taught only the superficial, sugar-coated meaning of it. In a similar reference, she talks about Karna and Kunti from the holiest Indian mythology, Mahabharata. The fact remains that Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas is revered as a virtuous woman and yet what mainstream culture tends to gloss over is that she has an illegitimate son born out of wedlock. What Roy is referring to is this whole idea of glamorising and sanctifying human life and human existence beyond recognition. These are the moral values that society and religion hold out as principles that need to be followed for the good of man and yet all they do is bring unhappiness and unfulfillment. The ideal world doesn’t exist and so, when Estha and Rahel’s family go to watch The Sound of Music it is the time when Estha loses his innocence in the hands of the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. Thus, what we think are the most perfect experiences of childhood often hold the most scarring of experiences for us.


The story continues, the family is split up with Rahel being sent away. She is expelled from more than one school and goes through a broken relationship before she comes home again. There is a sense of completion of a circle as she can be together with her twin, Estha. Being together makes them feel whole, a fulfilment that they express through physical intercourse. Obviously they are lost souls who are meant to be together. It is a replication of the Adam and Eve story where God creates a perfect world (like society0 yet also adds a rule which is impossible for Adam and Eve to maintain if they want to be really happy. Thus, Roy creates an alternate universe for Estha and Rahel, (which belongs to the God of Small Things) but, this world that she promotes at the cost of the “real world” as a place of harmony and happiness, is it long-lasting? Is it even real? We will never know because the story stops short of explaining. 


SciencesPo Pre-college Programme 2020 Reflection 6 Social Class

Over the course of two weeks, I enrolled in an elective called Social Class: How inequality shapes our lives which was taught by Benjamin Brundu-Gonzalez. Through this course, I understood how class shapes our lives in a variety of domains and I was able to recognize misconceptions about class and stratification whenever and wherever I encounter them in political discourse, in the news or on social media. The course began with traditional theories of social class and stratification. We examined how economic inequality has risen to record levels over the past decades and why it matters. The course then moved on to look at the behavioural and relational dimensions of class divisions. We discussed topics such as “Why do people from different class background develop different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving and how does class impact who we choose as friends and lovers?” We also paid close attention to the ways in which social class interlocks with other social divisions, with the focus on race and gender. Finally, the course ended with class stigmatisation in pop culture and asked how class relations play into the big picture of class politics.


In total there were 7 sessions, (1) What is social class? (2) How big is economic inequality? (3) Is class written into our being? (4) What is the impact of class on personal relationships? (5) What about race and gender? (6) What do we believe about social class? (7) Is class politics still relevant? In my opinion, I found these sessions to be very interesting because they were relevant to today’s world and they are also very applicable to the work I am doing in school such as my EA in which I am focusing on social class and migrant workers in Singapore. 


After going through all of these sessions, we had a Petit Oral which was assessed. My group and I focused on the question “Should we be sceptical of meritocracy”. This question was interesting for me as we focused on Singapore, a country in which meritocracy is very prevalent. However, through the research for the oral, though apparently it appears to be an equitable distribution of opportunities, its not really a fair playing field for all. 

SciencesPo Pre-college Programme 2020 Reflection 5 Master Class 4

The last masterclass I attended was Populism and Democracy by Nonna Mayer. In this last session, we approached the issue of populism through a variety of readings and presentations. Then we later adopted a more global approach and tried to build a definition of populism, based on the examples given in class.


The terms we were focusing on are, losers to globalization, populist radical right and representative democracy. Through the readings, the topics that we looked at were The Populist Zeitgeist, defining the undefinable, contemporary populism and reactions to the populist challenge. In this session, we concluded that populism is an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’ which in turn argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people. 

SciencesPo Pre-college Programme 2020 Reflection 4 Master Class 3

The third masterclass was on Human Security: The Concept of Human Security and its Application to Building Peace by Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh. Through this session, we had to focus on important concepts in international relations and discuss their relevance to the study of contemporary security studies phenomena and peace-building.  


The key terms we were focusing on were human security vs national security, liberal peace-building, radicalization, violent extremism, terrorism from the perspective of people, institutions and the state. Through the reading material from this session, we looked at the security of individuals and institutions, more specifically, its definition and parameters, added value to security, development and human rights. We also explored questions such as security of whom, security from what, security by what means and whether the concept of security can legitimize peace-building and state-building. 


For this session, I was asked to make a presentation on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) with my partner Gràcia. I spoke about how the concept of the R2P produced the idea that “State sovereignty as a responsibility” and how it confirmed the belief that sovereignty isn’t just protection from outside interference, but instead, it is a matter of states which have responsibility for their population’s welfare.


This session for me was as relevant as the session on Sustainable Development as I (in the future) can incorporate my learning from this session into what I have learned so far in Global Politics in correlation with the GPC (Global Politics Challenge) Security from all of the previous units done in class. Something that I liked about this session is how within human security it also talks about economic, health and social welfare as well as the crossing of boundaries and the position of the government in the context of human security. Likewise, as in sustainable development, I really feel that given the situation of the world now, human security is one of our top priorities and I would also like to pursue this field of study in the future. 

SciencesPo Pre-college Programme 2020 Reflection 3 Master Class 2

The second masterclass was Sustainable Development: Challenges and Opportunities on a finite Planet by Tancrède Voituriez. The aim of the session was to be confronted with the political implications of climate change and sustainable development. Throughout this session, we were asked to work on international events and had to debate on the orientation of climate change policies. 


Personally, I thought this was one of the best masterclasses in the entire summer school course. In school, I am currently taking Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) so this session really fuelled my interest in the subject. The concepts that we focused on were sustainable development, planetary boundaries, Anthropocene and tipping points. This session was incredibly relevant to today’s world as we are actually in the geological epoch where there is significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.  


Although this session introduced fairly new topics, I felt as though I would be able to connect them to concepts in school as we were discussing the risks of a Hothouse Earth Pathway and its effect, Biophysical Feedbacks, Tipping Cascades, Stabilized Earth Pathways, Human Feedbacks in the Earth System and the Building Resilience of in Rapidly Changing Earth Systems. 


I really feel that given the situation of the world now, even as we are affected by Covid19 the environment remains to be one of our top priorities and I would like to pursue this field of study in the future. 


Here’s another video that I found incredibly interesting. 

“Welcome to the Anthropocene”



SciencesPo Pre-college Programme 2020 Reflection 2 Master Class 1

The first masterclass I attended was based on European Contemporary Challenges. The aim of the session was for students to adopt different standpoints which would help us grasp the diversity of opinions about European integration among political actors and scholars. Through the tutorial session, we focused on the key points of the nation-state, sovereignty and free movement. 


The masterclass touched base on terms and concepts such as nationalism, international organizations (IOs), regionalism and regional integration, realism, federalism and federalism to neo-functionalism. We also focused on the perspectives of Jean Monnet, David Mitrany and Ernt Haas. The session helped me to understand the role/involvement of governments, the formation of the European Union and the study of International Relations. 


What I found really engrossing about this session is how similar it was to the things I am studying in school for Global Politics, particularly, the concepts of sovereignty, liberalism and realism. I feel as though I can use the material I was given in the session to complement the second case study we studied in class, Power Politics: China and the South China Sea.


Here is a link to an interesting video on the formation of the European Union