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 Service.
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 Malaysians.
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 examination exercise.
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 effective.
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 patriotic.
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 questions.
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.