Concerns about implementation and sustainability

PETALING JAYA: Implementation and sustainability are two main concerns raised by education activists about the government’s proposal to revive the National Service Training Programme.

Parent Action Group for Education chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said when it came to the previous iteration of the national service programme, it was “a little too late” if unity had been the intended outcome.

“It only involved a small number of students, insufficient to make an impact.

“The expense involved was also high merely to get a few people to unite,” she said when contacted for her opinion on Defence Minister Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan’s reply in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday to a question about reviving the National Service Training Programme (see lead story below).

Noor Azimah said the proposed new programme might help with the state of racial and religious cohesion among young people now, but it was unlikely to be sustainable.

“It is easier and more effortless if unity is honed in primary school.

“It is politicians who create racial and religious tensions. The youth only want good jobs to enjoy a better quality of life than their parents did,” she said.

Noor Azimah noted that the training programme’s modules should focus on building social ties among youth from different backgrounds.

“We are cautious about the purpose and intended outcome of army training. Is it discipline? Is it defence? Or is it to protect ourselves from each other?” she said, adding that having a Parliamentary Special Select Committee to further scrutinise the programme for further input was a good idea.

She also called on the government to give the Dual Language Programme a development budget, as it is another good way to unite students.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin said the idea of reviving the national service programme was a good one.

“It is the implementation that we want to know more about.

“It’s good to get our youths together, which should be done by our education system. But it’s not doing that, and politics makes it worse; that’s why we need something like this to bring youths together,” he said when contacted.

Another concern, added Mak, was whether it would be a compulsory or voluntary programme for the students.

“Also, does it involve all or only those selected? They should start with it being voluntary first and see how it goes.

“Earlier on, some wanted to join but were not chosen, and vice versa. So the options should be there. Unless they make it compulsory for all,” he said.

However, Mak said he does not expect the impact of such a programme to be great, as nationalism and unity should be instilled from a young age through the education system.

“If the intention is to instil nationalism, patriotism and values like that, having fair and just policies for all plays a part, too.

“I still feel strongly (it is best) to bring us together and to instil nationalism through education,” he said.

Architects of Diversity, a youth-led non-profit organisation, said in a statement that it supported the reimplementation of the national service training programme and recommended appropriate revisions to ensure social cohesion was a core focus.

“The fragile state of racial and religious cohesion among youth is the most pressing need of the nation.

“With security and nationalism as goals to be achieved concurrently, the design and programming (of the programme) should include its potential to build social ties among youth from different backgrounds and support crucial public values, such as empathy and understanding.

“We urge the Defence Ministry and the Parliamentary Select Committee on Security to involve youth and civil society organisations during the planning stages and prior to implementation,” it said.

Among its recommendations are beginning with a one-year pilot stage for stringent testing prior to scaled implementation.

“Additionally, a rebranded (national service programme) focused on addressing social divisions and supporting interracial understanding could overcome existing negative sentiments about the programme,” it added.

Administratively, the group recommended the appointment of a non-partisan council to manage the programme with youth representation on it.

“A robust procurement process and independent ombudsman are needed to prevent leakages and corrupt practices and to protect participants from abuse such as bullying, sexual harassment and negligence,” it said.

The group also called for revisions to the initial training programme model, such as smaller ratios between ethnic groups.

Calling also for an increased quality and diversity of trainers, it said independent monitoring and evaluation must be implemented and facilitated for robust assessment.

To minimise cost, Architects of Diversity urged the government to leverage a targeted selection of youth who have a large social influence in their own communities to amplify the programme’s effects.

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