Friday, February 27, 2009

Guest Article: NS Observations and Thoughts (II)

Part 2 of Mei San's article on the NS program.

M-16 Training

The M-16 training is one of the greatest “selling points” of the NS programme.

A day before the actual shooting session, trainees were given a briefing by the army. During the briefing session, we were taught the correct position to take while shooting, the instructions that we had to be aware of and how to walk to our respective positions. During the actual shooting session, each trainee was allowed thirty shots, using live bullets, of which 10 were for testing purpose while the remaining 20 counted for points. The shooting session lasted about five minutes for each trainee. Only trainees with a signed letter of consent by their parent or guardian were allowed to shoot.

What lesson is to be expected of this M-16 training?

During a Dewan Rakyat sitting, in a reply to Loke Siew Fook (DAP-Rasah) who questioned the purpose of the M-16 training, the Deputy Defense Minister stated that the M-16 training “has helped to instill discipline among NS trainees”7.

In reality, there is not much space and opportunity for learning. The M-16 training only provided the trainees a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fire live bullets from an M-16. Nothing substantial was taught during both the briefing and actual shooting sessions. It cannot be said that the trainees have learned the proper way to handle firearms.

While some trainees may be excited with their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fire live bullets from an M-16, the public have not been very receptive with the idea of incorporating the M-16 training module in the NS programme.

Ronnie Liu of the DAP, has once issued a media statement “M16 training for NS trainees serves little purpose but poses high risks for all” in which he wrote that “The proposed additional M16 training for NS trainees may not serve much purpose, but it would inevitably increase the cost of the program besides posing high risks to the trainees and the society in general. I hate to think about the possibility of arms heists and vulnerability of accidents in the camps”.8

Jacqueline Ann Surin wrote for the Sun that “Arms usage training kills NS objectives”: “Does it teach our young constructive and respectful ways of dealing with misunderstandings and conflicts between the races? Does it promote the noble values of, among others, inner strength, patience, peace and justice?

“So, here's a question I have for our government: How does a government agency get away with proposing and then running a programme, albeit a trial one, that explicitly undermines all the three objectives that were set out by the government itself?

“The only reason I can think of for our teenagers to be given arms training is so that they will be prepared to use it one day.

“But, I remember very clearly a commitment made by our government that National Service in Malaysia was not about building a reserve army in the way that the Singapore National Services aims to do.”9

An online poll by The Star on 8 June 2006 found that more than two-thirds of readers disagreed with the move to train national service trainees in the use of the M16 assault rifle.10

NS Training Department deputy director-general Omar Abdul Rahman said “to avoid misunderstanding, we have changed the name from shooting lesson (kelas menembak) to light-arms usage training (latihan penggunaan senjata ringan).”11

TRANSPARENCY

The lack of transparency on the ways things are being managed in the NS programme has led to a serious decline of public confidence towards this programme.

Fatalities

As of today, there are 16 fatalities from the NS programme. However, not a single fatality was granted the appropriate inquiry or thorough investigation. Were the fatalities due to negligence by the instructors? Or did those tragedies occur because the trainees disobeyed instructions and were acting based on their own wills and desires? The public has no idea. “… Many of such reports are rarely published to the public”, wrote TE Cheah in his medical blog posting “National Service: A Death Trap?” 12. The vacuum of information only serves to create more uncertainties and fear towards the programme. To make things worse, the Deputy Prime Minister, then Minister of Defense, was even quoted in an occasion to remark that “only 14 have died”, indicating an attitude of indifference and insensitive towards the lives of the trainees13.

Camp Operations

There have been many reports of food poisoning in NS camps. Is the hygiene at all NS campsites regularly assessed by the authorities to be at a satisfactory and safe level?

Ricky Lim, a former NS trainee at Lagenda Gunung Ledang Asahan camp, passed away on 15 September 2008, fifteen days after he completed his training. An initial post-mortem could not identify the cause of death and health authorities are carrying out further tissue analysis which is expected to take between two and three months14. Ricky did not complain of any illness or pain prior to his death but he did complain about the camp’s hygiene and yellowish water supply15.

The writer herself can testify to yellowish water with sedimentation in the canteen as well as dormitories in her NS camp.

In September 2008, Penang state government has ordered the closure of three NS camps in Balik Pulau, Kampung Genting and Machang Bubok following an investigation showed that the three camps were built illegally16. A landslide occurred at the Sri Mutiara Balik Pulau camp after a heavy rain. Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was quoted as saying that the three camps would not be allowed to operate until their planning permission was submitted and approved by local authorities17.

The assurances given by the NS Department are clearly contradicted by the events occurring in the camps.

Moreover, the 2007 Auditor-General’s report said that NS ‘shirkers’ and a very “rigid” contract have caused the Government losses of up to RM110.1million from 2004 to 2007.18 The 2007 A-G report also found that T-shirts, track pants, baseball caps and sports shoes supplied under contracts worth RM41.12mil were of low quality.19 But no appropriate inquiry or investigation has ever been conducted on this matter.

How much autonomy is given to each camp? Trainees have come back telling that different rules and regulations are enforced in different camps. Furthermore, there are also trainees who have said that certain camps have “more fun”.

The Different Batches

The yearly conscriptions of the NS programme are divided into three separate batches to undergo their trainings. The unofficial saying goes that the first and second batches of trainees are top scorers and good students while the third batch, on the contrary, are those with problematic backgrounds or are school dropouts. Many trainees, even NS instructors, have testified to this saying. Yet, there is never an official statement by the NS Department on this issue.

Will the NS Department be prepared to make it known to the public how trainees are appointed to their training groups? Will different approaches be adopted to approach the different groups of trainees? For instance, trainees of the third batch might not be accustomed to classroom activities such as Character Building. Will they, instead, be given vocational lessons to arm them with skills that will help them to earn an honest living in the near future?

The Military Issue

The NS Department has always been insisting that the NS programme is never meant to be military styled. Nevertheless, the reality is that there are much resemblance between the NS programme and military training. For instance, training activities such as obstacle course and M-16 training as well as the ways assemblies are conducted in camp. Furthermore, the majority of the instructors employed are formerly with the military and the camps are all administrated by military rank holders. These, coupled with the fatalities, create the confusion of whether the NS programme is truly “not military styled”. Will the NS Department make an attempt to reclassify the NS programme as “semi-military”, stating clearly which are the elements structured after the military, which are not and what are the purposes?

Training of Trainers

The majority of the instructors, particularly those of the physical module, are retired military rank holders. While their contributions and sacrifices for the country must be properly recognized, the NS Department must also acknowledge that they are not necessarily the ideal instructors for the NS programme, especially when the NS Department often emphasizes that the NS programme is “not military styled”. The writer has occasionally observed the burly attitudes of the instructors, including shouting unpleasant words to trainees (“if this is how you live your lives, you might as well die!”), which not only have the potential to hurt the trainees’ self-esteem and self- confidence, but can induce further anger in more rebellious trainees. There are also instructors who, sometimes, do not hesitate to issue threats in order to discipline the trainees (I can break this pillar in front of you!). Will the NS Department come up with a code of ethics for the instructors? Will they reconsider the employment of former military rank holders to train NS trainees?

The conflicts which often arise between the public and the NS Department are due to the statements and facts made by the NS Department which contradicts with their execution and enforcement. Addressing the above issues will help to resolve the conflicts. It will, in addition, help to create a healthy check-and-balance system for the NS Department.

Objectives & Benefits

The official objectives of the NS programme, as stated in its official website, are as followed:20

1. To heighten the spirit of patriotism among the younger generation
2. To promote racial unity and national integration
3. To build positive characters through practice of noble values
4. To inculcate spirit of volunteerism
5. To produce a generation of active, bright and confident youths



The first two objectives clearly cannot be perceived as achieved. C. S. Kuppuswamy wrote in his paper “Malaysia’s Racial Politics” that “a National Service Programme was launched in 2004 where youths of different races were nominated to undergo a camp for about three months for a training programme, during which they would come to know the culture and traditions of the other races. These small measures neither had the desired impact nor had the support of the general public.”21 The same was observed by Aliran - “national harmony and patriotism cannot be hammered into the youths via a three-month stint of military-type training and outward bound activities.”22 Furthermore, while the majority of the trainees who have completed their trainings have testified that the NS programme has allowed them to be more independent, to develop communication skills and to make socialize with new friends, they agree that the NS programme has little impact on patriotism as well as racial integration. The fourth objective cannot be achieved through the community service module, too.

Most importantly, we question the uniqueness and exclusiveness of the objectives set by the NS Department. Cannot these same objectives be achieved through our national education system or through the implementation of youth community programmes such as Rakan Muda?23 Is it justified to have a programme, which does not have any exclusive objective, but costs the government RM2.37 billion?

Conclusion

In 2009, the NS programme enters its sixth year since its launching in year 2004. Fifteen batches of trainees have completed their three month training. While the trainees have talked of the interesting and extraordinary NS experiences that have very much benefited them, the NS programme has also seen its fair share of controversies, with fatalities and the huge expenses heading the list. It is, therefore, urgent and crucial that a thorough review is done on the NS programme. This is also advocated by former NS council chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, who said that a review was necessary after five years and it should cover all aspects, including training modules, training quality, health and hygiene, food quality and camp management.24 There is no excuse for a lack of available sample as fifteen batches of trainees have already completed their trainings. The review should be done by an independent panel and the report be debated in Parliament. Only through this channel can we justify the costs behind the NS programme.

References

1. “RM2.37bil spent on NS” retrieved on 18 February 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/bc3tot.

Nevertheless, Palmdoc, in his blog posting “The Saving Private Ryan Clause for the NS” on http://medicine.com.my on 23 September 2008 wrote of the unclear number of fatalities which range from 16 to 21.

2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Anthony Loke Siew Fook “RM2.37billion spent for National Service since 2004-2007” retrieved on 11 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/amtzsh
5. Ibid.
6. Official textbooks of Integration Programme, National Service, Department of National Service, Ministry of Defense.
7. Anthony Loke Siew Fook “RM2.37billion spent for National Service since 2004-2007” retrieved on 11 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/amtzsh
8. Ronnie Liu “M16 training for NS trainees serves little purpose but poses high risks for all” retrieved on 19 February 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/cac7h2
9. Jacqueline Ann Surin “Arms usage training kills NS objectives” retrieved on 19 February 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/dfnrex
10. “Poll: NS trainees and M-16 shouldn’t mix” (The Star Online) retrieved on 19 February 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/ce5jtd
11. “NS trainees fire away” (Sun2surf) retrieved on 19 February 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/au57x8
12. T. E. Cheah (2007, 4 March), “National Service: A Death Trap”, retrieved on 27 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/de5ab7
13. “Government Won't Compromise On Negligence At NS Training Camps”, (Bernama.com) retrieved on 28 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/d6vas4
14. “Helping Jane Get Exemption from NS” (The Star Online) retrieved on 29 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/bec92c
15. Allison Lai (2008, 22 September), “Parents Say No to NS Stint After Son’s Death” (The Star Online), retrieved on 29 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/c6tq7c
16. K. Kasturi Dewi “Penang Orders Closure of Three Camps”, retrieved on 27 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/afbl9q
17. Ibid
18. Royce Cheah, “NS deals led to RM110m loss” (The Star Online), retrieved on 19 February 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/bo8n9h
19. Ibid
20. “Objektif”, (Program Latihan Khidmat Negara), retrieved on 11 September 2008 from www.khidmatnegara.gov
21. C. S. Kuppuswamy (2006, 13 December), “Malaysia’s Racial Politics”, retrieved on 27 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/absbu2
22. Aliran Executive Committee (2004, 27 April), “A Disservice to the Nation”, retrieved on 27 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/2mx9y6
23. Anthony Loke Siew Fook “RM2.37billion spent for National Service since 2004-2007” retrieved on 11 September 2008 from http://tinyurl.com/amtzsh
24. “Thorough Review of NS Programme Soon, Says Outgoing Chairman” (Malaysian National News Agency) retrieved on 21 February 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/bhf5ko

12 comments:

Helen said...

The NS programme is nothing but a rip-off. I wonder how many have become millionaires since the programme started. And now there is talk about introducing a pre-NS programme in schools !!! It's high time parents and tax-payers put an end to this charade. What National Service??!! It looks more like an EC (Enrich Cronies programme).

Helen

Shawn Tan said...

The way to better understand each other is to avoid asking questions, especially difficult ones. -- classic! Obviously, when a major program is proposed and rushed through parliament as fast as this one was, there would be plenty of gaps in its implementation. NS camps can be extremely fun and beneficial if structured properly. However, this may just be a bit too much to ask for.

Helen said...

Are we spending billions of ringgit on the NS programmes just so that the participants can have fun? A properly run national service doesn't have providing fun as one of its top piorities. Perhaps some participants have the idea that National Service Malaysian-style is akin to a summer camp. Perhaps these are the youth (according to the organisers)who are clamouring to attend NS even though they have not been selected. Incredible, huh?

Helen

Anonymous said...

OFF TOPIC

It is interesting to read today's star on the education section. It seems out of a population of 2000 lecturers in the campus there are 50 lecturers having problem finishing their PhDs.

Wat should be more interesting is not so much 50 of the lecturers out of 2000 lecturer in UM out 50 of out of how many who are doing their PhD!!! This would indicate a more interesting conclusion

Will Ghaith answer this question?

Mei San said...

The question is, should we spend such a substantial amount of money on a three month camp when the objectives should be and can be implemented through other channels like the education system?
It's not about the trainees having fun... but whether the objectives are unique to the NS programme.
Proper implementation means a thorough debate through the Parliament before the Bill was passed and constant review of the programme. And I think should there really have been a proper implementation of the whole idea, it would never have been implemented at all.

Soo Huey said...

I'm a HUMONGOUS supporter of extra-curricular activities, which is rapidly losing prominence in schools. I believe that IF well-supported by the school, they provide excellent opportunity for students to diversify knowledge and gain skills that are likely even more useful to their future than what is taught in the school syllabus. I believe in the rigidity of our school system, extra-curricular activities are the only options left to mould creative leaders.

I believe what the government is supposedly hoping to achieve with NS can be gained more effectively within a well-run and supported extra-curricular system. Students spend at least 5 years in a club/society with students with common interest from Forms 1-5, and activities may be organised within their own school or with other schools; ie. Chinese schools have option to interact with national schools and (if the school admin / parents don't have a heart attack over it) boys with girls.

Nowadays, clubs/societies mean little more than a tick in a box. Most teachers only oblige because it is a compulsory part of the school system, many parents are even against them because it takes time away from school textbooks or is too tiring/hot/dangerous for their over-protected children, and the disinterest has spread to the students themselves such that even if a teacher wanted to encourage activity, the students would rather laze at home.

I strongly believe that there is no need for NS if the government were to be more genuine in encouraging extra-curricular activities, ensure the MoE and schools themselves provide adequate support for teachers who mentor these activities, and not only pay lip-service by occasional statements about all-rounded students.

It is like implementing the teaching of Science and Maths in English, which is completely unnecessary if they would just ensure better English teachers and syllabus! Someone must really love complications, challenges and foolish use of tax-payers' money because they often neglect much more easier, effective and relevant options!

Soo Huey said...

To continue on Anonymous (3/01/2009 12:33:00 PM)'s off topic...

I actually sympathised with the lecturers when I read the news article. For me the question that begs to be asked is if these lecturers were also expected to lecture while completing their PhDs. If that is the case, then it is the government who is being unreasonable in the first place to demand these poor lecturers to complete their PhDs within 3.5-4 yrs! For some faculties it may be possible, but for others it is simply ludicrous. One can't just throw money at something and demand for results. Something has to give - Either quality of their teaching will be compromised, or they'll come out with poor quality PhD research.

It seems to me that these days having a PhD should be minimum requirement in the first place to become lecturers at a university, so I'm surprised they don't already have PhDs. However, I do hope the government realises that just because they have x number of PhD-holders as lecturers is no real indication of quality, especially if it is attained under unreasonable time limits. Similarly x numbers of publications (research) don't mean anything if they aren't good enough to be published in good journals.

Fikri said...

I would be very interested if there are efforts to take this further. Based on what I've read in your articles thus far, Mei San, I realise that perhaps the reason why I haven't come across such detailed accounts of the NS experience is because there aren't many out there, officially or otherwise.

Perhaps we can all do something whereby people can write in of their NS experiences (both positive and/or negative, so long as they are detailed enough). Maybe something like an e-book could be published, and contributions can also be from other parties, like instructors.

From this, there will be a more concrete foundation to take things to the next stage, like petitions, debates (inside and/or outside of Parliament), or, dare I say it, maybe even stronger modes of expressions like vigils and/or protests (since it seems to be the rage within these last few years). Maybe we can even have such meetings and debates under the trees, Perak-style. :)

Sounds a bit far-fetched, I know, but what I'm trying to put across is that I like reading these accounts very much. It has been quite an eye-opener, and I would like to read more from other participants.

Fikri said...

And also...

"...National Service in Malaysia was not about building a reserve army in the way that the Singapore National Services aims to do.”

Perhaps in that case, we shouldn't even call it national service to begin with.

kum 1/siri 6/2009 said...

I recently completed NS training myself and here are my observations/rantings:
1. Trainers
Unorganized, unsystematic and very "syiok" sendiri. All smoke and sound but no action. Most were very racial themselves. Sometimes, information trainees would get would be totally different depending on which "cikgu" you go to. Handphones, our lifelines in near isolation, were returned depending on the teacher's moods.
2. Food
If the aim of the program was to churn out healthy, fit individuals by the end of their training, it would be seriously hampered by the fact that food served by the canteen consisted mostly of carbs and meat; vegetables(providing if there were any) would be cooked till yellow and limp and until the last of its vitamins gave in. The saying that "Kerajaan membelanjakan lebih daripada RM 10 000 sehari untuk makanan kamu" left all of us aghast. Most just tell their parent to buy them jumbo boxes of instant noodles every Saturday.
3. Discipline and safety
A fight broke out btw trainees (racially motivated btw but totally according to the muhhibah concept since all three major races were involved), where in the end a brick was thrown at someone's head, resulting in an overnight stay in a hospital but you don't see it reported anywhere. In another case, the kem komamden himself falsely accused a girl of having a love bite when it was actually a mosquito bite on her neck. She was already packed and ready to be sent home, in tears and in disgrace when the Tuan changed his mind. Similarly, when a group of guys who had been caught smoking were about to be sent home, the komanden gathered us all onto the padang kawat and asked us "Perlukah kawan2 kamu ini dihantar balik?" so of course we shouted "TIDAK". He repeated himself (hoping for a different answer maybe?) but to no avail. Ans so our kawan-kawan stayed on. Pathetic.

And it's only here that I truly see how racially divided we are. During mealtimes for instance, Malays will be eating with Malays, Chinese with Chinese and etc... Checking for groups (during kelas CB and all that), you'll hear complaints like " Eee semua orang Cina/Melayu/India".

We were asked to do mindless activities like star jumps and jumping jacks (don't they know studies have shown that PT 10 are in fact damaging to the knee joints?).

Kelas Kenegaran was fun (for all the wrong reasons). KN was where you would be brainwashed into becoming a "good citizen". Was fun to provide the teacher with stupid answers to her stupid questions. Q: If Singapore were to attack Malaysia, who would win? Ans: Of course Malaysia since we outnumber them 6:1. How was I to know that she didn't take into account technological advances beyond our own and so on?

thank god it was raining all the time so we didn't have to go for kawat lessons.

Anyway I come back a more disciplined, well-rounded individual with an astounding level of patriotism and undying gratitude to my jurulatih. NOT

jupfree said...

ntah lah ... national service juste to waste money and waste time

Anonymous said...

The NS is a legit of spending our resources to feed 'his' own men. Nothing more, nothing less. No care for the children. If we really want to create unity and instill love for the country etc, it must all be done at school. Properly trained teachers and a thoroughly revamped syllabus will do for a start. Not un-trainable teachers (who didn't qualify for other programs!) and a biased account of history, funny science scripts etc. More resources for the extra curricular activities too. Then the kids can study well and enjoy their afternoons at school.

This whole NS episode is very, very sad. Because the citizens, esp the parents of this country have failed to ask the govt why they're wasting money, and worse, wasting the lives of so many young people.

And it's too late to do anything about it now. The leader who cooked up NS is holding the key to our Finance Ministry. There's no stopping the gravy train...