Should National Service be discontinued?


( – What they will gain once they finish the training?

SINCE its inception in 2004, the National Service (NS) programme have been under scrutiny from all sides as it has been plagued with various problems, including casualties among the trainees.

At its 10th anniversary at the end of last year, there were a number of suggestions made to Putrajaya to suspend and review the programme, on the grounds that it was a waste of taxpayers’ money and had failed in achieving its objective of national integration.

Between 2004 and 2007, the programme cost a whopping RM2.37 billion, and for 2012, the Defence Ministry, under which the NS programme is conducted, was given an allocation of RM748 million.

This amount is about the same as the budget for some ministries. As a result, questions have been asked about how the money is spent.

According to the NS 2012 annual report, of this RM748 million, about 12 per cent (RM92 million) was allocated for management and about 87 per cent (RM656 million) were for training activities.

These training activities come under four core modules (character building, nationhood, community service and physical) and fourteen sub-modules, which support the collective aim of achieving five objectives.

As a primary objective of the programme is to foster national unity and integration, it is critical to understand whether the programme has truly achieved this objective.

A need for thorough evaluation

The Chairman of Yayasan 1Malaysia, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, believes that since the programme has reached its 10th year, it is most appropriate to conduct a thorough evaluation of the programme to see whether it has helped to enhance national integration.

He has suggested this to the government but so far has yet to see an in-depth study being done.

“Unfortunately, there has been no such study. I don’t think there has been any attempt to study the impact of the National Service programme in depth.

“There should have been such a study before the decision was made to continue with the programme.

“I think the government decided that they will continue with the programme in spite of some calls from people to evaluate the programme thoroughly before continuing,” he said.

In his view, it was doubtful whether the programme had succeeded in bringing young people closer together, mainly because it is a short-term programme of three months.

He believed that issues relating to national integration are not dealt with in-depth during the classes that the trainees attend. After they finish, they would return to their respective localities, without experiencing a strong impact from the training.

If the objective of national integration is not being met, Chandra opined that it would be preferable to channel the allocation from the NS programmes to other approaches that had proven to work at the primary school level.

“I don’t think this (national integration) is happening. Since this is an expensive programme, I would rather that they do the study.

“If they find that it does not really meet our objectives as far as national integration is concerned, I hope they will do away with the programme and maybe channel the money to something else,” he said.

Chandra also believed that if the real purpose of the NS was to promote national integration, then it was better if it were put under either the Youth Ministry or Department of National Unity with the Prime Minister’s Office instead of the Defence Ministry.

Too many sub-modules, too little national integration

As for the situation on the ground in the training camps, a trainer at a NS camp in Gopeng tells that in the NS camps, there are so many sub-modules being implemented that it causes disarray.

He said that with so many things being fitted into the programme, trainees are left with limited time to actually understand the meaning of national integration.

“Unfortunately, nowadays there are so many modules and sub-modules being implemented that it causes disarray within the modules. An example is the Lahad Datu case. After the incident, the minister asked that a sub-module called ‘Malaysia Berdaulat’ (Sovereign Malaysia) be included.

“It is bad enough that there is not enough time in those three months. Even with the case of the recent missing aircraft (MH370), there has been talk of adding more modules that will enhance the trainees’ skills.

“Everything is being fitted into NS, which is now looking like a tofu factory,” he complained.

The situation in the camps is that trainees take time to truly mingle with people of different backgrounds, as initially they often tend to stick to their own cliques.

This process of learning to integrate with people from various backgrounds takes up to three or four weeks, the trainer notes.

“For me, NS is a medium that allows national integration to happen. Sometimes, in our schools, even with the various races mixing, the integration is not there.

“The students tend to stick with others of the same race during break time and when they are on their own. In the NS camp, it is almost like that too, when the training activities do not stress on interaction. There is some, but there is not enough time to emphasise integration with so many modules and limited time.

“It happens if the trainers themselves prioritise it, but sometimes to do that is not easy,” he said.

Therefore, he wholeheartedly agrees with calls to evaluate the programme because he considers the current situation as one of disarray.

To continue with the current programme, the trainer said, would be to do a haphazard job as the trainees will only gain new friends and a little bit of experience, but never achieve the meaning of true national identity.

He also grumbles about the money not being well spent and being used for ‘other’ purposes. In the end, he said, the trainees must get the best out of the programme.

“My main concern is the input for the trainees: what they will gain once they finish the training,” he said.