MALAYSIA - STOP pampering National Service (NS) trainees, the programme's pioneers say.
Those involved in NS during its inception are calling on the Government to re-look its policies and objectives to arrest the declining discipline among trainees.
Former camp director Michael Yei, 58, says NS should be less classroom-centric.
"Previously, trainees would spend more than 16 hours outdoors but now they are worried about kids being under the sun for too long.
"There's just too much emphasis on classrooms now. You need activities like rafting, trekking, barbecues and sleeping in tents to bond - these outdoor activities are crucial for teambuilding," he says, adding that NS modules must develop healthy competition, leadership, organisation and interpersonal skills.
He is urging the Government to ensure that those involved in NS do not have "ulterior motives" other than to promote unity.
"NS is still needed but we must re-look certain policies. What's important for youth development is paramount, not how to make NS more comfortable for them," says Yeh, who was one of 41 camp directors nationwide in charge of the programme's physical module when it was started.
Yei oversaw some 3,000 trainees during his year-long NS stint.
Having kept in touch with his former charges and fellow trainers, he says NS has, to a large extent, achieved its objective of promoting unity.
"My goal was to ensure the integration of races and for our batch, NS was a success," he says.
Ex-camp operator Capt (R) Samsuddin Abu Bakar, 56, is appealing to the Government to "bring adventure back".
He says self-confidence, multiracial unity, harmony and patriotism could only be effectively cultivated through outdoor camp activities.
"Today, much of the focus is on classroom activities where trainees gain knowledge, but not experience. As a result, they lack mental and emotional strength.
"We need to stop treating the trainees like princes and princesses. The Government must go back to the drawing board and figure out what they want to achieve from NS and how to go about implementing it," he says.
NS is still an integral component in creating a resilient nation but a new training approach is needed. Achieving developed nation status would be pointless if the rakyat lack values, he notes.
"Reports of trainees dying, filthy camps and fights breaking out are because those in charge failed to comply with the standard operating procedures - it's as simple as that," he adds.
Dr E. Gunathevan, 47, who was a trainer for three years (2004-2007), agrees.
He says NS is good but the programme has strayed from its initial policies. Citing an example, he says trainees these days conduct water activities in swimming pools instead of lakes and ponds to avoid problems related to water-borne diseases.
"Instead of implementing measures to control the disease, they've taken the easy way out, which is to send the trainees to the pool. This is contrary to the original plan for trainees to experience nature.
"The trainees now are too pampered and thus are reluctant to take on new challenges," he adds.
Discipline among trainees is also out of control, he observes.
He suggests that NS training be modelled after the army's voluntary reserve unit, adding that the Government must ensure that certain quarters do not take advantage of the programme for financial gain.
The trio were from the KKB camp where the NS programme was officially launched by former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Feb 22, 2004.
Also present was his then deputy, now Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. The KKB camp was among the best in the country in the early NS years.