Monday 24 June 2013

Ideas to make NS more engaging

First focus-group discussion throws up suggestions on making the experience more productive
By Jermyn Chow, The Sunday Times, 23 Jun 2013

National service remains a critical Singapore institution and must continue to be part of the country's development, said participants in the first focus-group discussion on how to strengthen the support for and commitment to NS.

More, however, can still be done to make the NS experience more productive and engaging, as well as improve the public's perception of national servicemen.

Some suggestions include matching a serviceman's skills and aspirations to his military vocation and offering more "impactful recognition" like priority housing and subsidies for education.

The 32 focus-group participants yesterday also shared their views on how to beef up support for the rite of passage.

During the 31/2-hour session, participants were asked, among other things, to rate their NS experience, identify the strengths as well as areas that can be improved.

They were also asked what they want NS to be like in 10 years' time.

The aim of the discussion was for the Committee to Strengthen National Service to gather the views and feedback from a cross section of society, on how to better recognise those who have served their NS obligations and increase buy-in from various other stakeholders like families, employers and new citizens.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who chairs the committee, announced its formation in Parliament in March this year. The 20-member group is made up of ministers, MPs, top military brass, NSmen and employers.

Those who signed up for yesterday's focus group included full-time national servicemen (NSFs), operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen), employers and a mother.

Among them was NSF Palani Yapan, a specialist in the Armour formation, who said NS is an integral part of society but processes can be streamlined so that day-to-day operations can run more efficiently. "Many people may feel frustrated and not very engaged because training can be quite inefficient."

But the 20-year-old, who completes his two-year mandatory NS stint at the end of this year, said he is optimistic that things will improve because there is a sense that defence planners and leaders are more willing to listen to the feedback from the ground.

Other NSFs like Mr Asraf Mustaffa, an administrative clerk in the 3rd Singapore Infantry Brigade, said he hopes that non-commanders in support roles like him can be given more opportunities to develop themselves. Such a move, he added, will "make soldiers more motivated to serve NS".

Temasek Polytechnic lecturer Justin Pang, an NSman who is likely to extend his 10-year NS cycle next year, said he hopes to get more buy-in from employers, especially line managers and superiors who deal directly with NSmen who get called up every year.

"I hope to change their mindset that it is not so much a disruption than just part of nation-building," said the 39-year-old.

One of the NS committee members, Mr Ridzuan Ismail, who was present at yesterday's feedback session, said he was heartened by the positive tone of the discussions.

"No one called for NS to be shortened or abolished and the quality of suggestions and the depth of the conversations surpassed my expectations." The chief engineer of the Catchment and Waterways Department at PUB, however, said he hopes to hear more from women and employers during subsequent focus-group discussions.

Yesterday's session was the first of 11 focus-group discussions, involving up to 542 participants, that will be held till next month.

By Jermyn Chow, The Sunday Times, 23 Jun 2013

Born in Malaysia, Mr Wong Wei Peng enlisted for national service in 1995 while a Singapore permanent resident, and went on to perform exceptionally in the military.

He topped his cohort in the Officer Cadet School a year later. After completing his mandatory NS stint, he performed well during his annual in-camp training and rose through the ranks to become an operations officer in an NS brigade.

In 2008, the 37-year-old entrepreneur got his Singapore citizenship, and is now a member of the Committee to Strengthen National Service.

"I never thought it was a waste of time and was grateful for all the opportunities that were given to me to develop and grow into the person I am today," he said.

He now hopes to create similar positive NS experiences for future enlistees through the committee's efforts.

Likewise, fellow committee member and NSman Ridzuan Ismail also hopes to correct peoples' misconceptions of NS.

The commanding officer of an NS infantry unit said: "NS is not a transaction... Its purpose is fundamental to the survival of Singapore. We need to throw out that notion that you are entitled to something if you serve NS."


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