National Service: A parent’s concerns
Mar 7, 07 4:57pm
I am a parent of five children – two boys and three
girls. One was drafted in the introduction phase of
the National Service programme and a second child
‘escaped’ being taken away from me.
The National Service programme is an idea which I am
in total agreement with. But its implementation calls
to mind too many questions of import. Questions which
has a detrimental affect on the very lives of our
children. I cried silently for those parents who had
lost the lives of their children due to the National
Yes, accidents occur and yes, honest mistakes happen
and yes, Allah has allotted a certain period of our
lives on this earth. I am willing to accept all these
if my children’s time has come. But I will not accept
the weak and questionable reasons thus far given by
those who are in charge of this whole exercise.
At the very top of the list is the curriculum and
pedagogy. The objectives are noble for which I am in
full agreement with. The objectives, it seems, is
about racial integration which this government, whom I
as an academic and a concerned Malaysian feel, has
failed to deliver in the primary, secondary and
university school systems.
The second noble objective seem to be to instill a
sense of national spirit and service to the community.
And a third seems to be to instill a sense of
discipline and toughness to the next generation of
I must, however, raise questions as to the
effectiveness of the programme’s objectives. I have
personally interviewed several NS trainees and also my
observation as to their behaviour and opinions
including that of my eldest child. The very first
question I ask of the Malay trainees is how many
Chinese trainees’ phone numbers have you collected?
The answers range from one to none.
Of course, mine is a small sample but other
independent bodies should take up this research
project. Next, I would observe my daughter’s and the
other trainees’ behaviour towards the community. Would
they now leave the sanctity of their video games and
handphones and get involved in the community? Nothing.
No thoughts, no gestures, not even an inkling of
wanting to think about any community involvement.
Finally, with respect to the third objective of
toughness and self-discipline, the children come back
home to their rooms eating chocolate and watching
Astro without wanting to jog or exercise. Some of my
friends have even complained that their children who
have been raised to pray five times a day coming home
with a different attitude about prayers. Thus, with
this very small sample, I hypothesise that the
National Service programme is nothing more than a
camping trip. Clearly, I think we may have the wrong
curriculum and pedagogy.
I remember one occasion when I sent my daughter to a
summer camp at Sungai Lui. The trainers made my wife
and I cry with my eldest daughter in just under two
hours of introduction to the camp’s objectives. The
three of us never felt as close as in that few minutes
which serves as an outstanding testimony to the camp’s
method of instilling love and a loving conscience.
We need the proper people for National Service and not
just any one. Just because the founder of the camp I
mentioned was an opposition member, that should not be
a reason to exclude such honed skills and talents. The
last time I checked, he was a long-time civil servant
and still carries a Malaysian identity card.
Next concerns the health of our children. I am most
saddened by National Service Training Council
chairperson Lee Lam Thye’s answer to the question of
medical examinations before entry. He simply said that
there are too many trainees to have a feasible medical
Excuse me sir, but you are forcing parents and
‘drafting’ our children. Once you take them, I am
holding you responsible for their lives. In the course
of her training, my daughter became sick and started
coughing on the fifth week when I visited her. When
the cough persisted on the sixth week, I asked
permission to take her out to the doctor. She said she
had already seen the NS ‘doctors’ and they were not
Though the trainers refused permission, I took her out
anyway and she went AWOL for three days. I took my
daughter to a clinic and made sure she took her
medication properly for the next three days. She had
acute bronchitis and when it subsided, I sent her back
to camp with the stern advice that she skip anything
strenuous or wet in her programme. If she was too
severely punished, I would come and take her home. I
was told that she and her friends were made to roll
like dogs in the puddles of rain-soaked grass. Very
I have three more children, and I am not satisfied
with the answers given by the National Service
programme officials on the matter of all the deaths
and rapes for the simple reason that there seems to be
no independent inquiry. I will not give up my children
easily to the National Service because of these hard
I want the National Service officials to give parents
a complete tour of the facilities and to adequately
inform us of the programme on the site that my child
will be stationed. I want the trainers to answer all
my questions about the programme to the point that I
am satisfied that if anything happens, it was a
genuine accident and not because of some half-baked
idea or exercise.
Firstly, our children are not military types so please
get those army people out of the programme! I don’t
mind the ‘brainwashing sessions’ as these would not be
fatal but reduce the military aspect of the programme
significantly or take it out altogether. My children
have been ‘drafted’ for only three months but I have
taken care of them for 17 years. I have more invested
and I will protect my investment in any way possible.
So, please, if no one can vouch for the military part,
get rid of it totally.
I have written these concerns as a father with no
political agenda whatsoever. I would never let my
daughter take a taxi alone anywhere. I would not let
my 10-year-old son cycle on a Malaysian roadway. I
would not let any of my little ones on any one of the
Malaysian school buses. I would thus betray my natural
sense of protectiveness by signing my child’s life
away to the National Service programme with all its
glaring flaws that have recurred again and again.
There are many more things that I can write about
concerning this programme but it would be sufficient
that I covey some simple messages. Firstly, reexamine
the curriculum and pedagogy. Secondly, get the real
expert trainers and not any Muthu, Lim or Ahmad.
Thirdly, parents must be briefed properly with tours
of the programmes and exercises. Fourthly, get rid of
the military-style programme or tone it down to a mild
Boy Scout hike. Fifthly, and most importantly, allow
an independent investigation of any deaths or mishap.
None of this ‘from a single source’ nonsense. This is
our children we are talking about. Yours and mine.
Some people have gotten away with a lot of things in
the course of our country’s history. But this is
different. I, for one, will refuse to send any of my
children to a National Service camp if the changes I
call for are not given grave consideration.