Students air views on national service

SINGAPORE - National service should be made intellectually stimulating for future soldiers, who should be allowed to speak their minds and air their views.

That is the view of 17-year-old Liau Wen Rui, who will be enlisted at the end of next year. The Singapore Armed Forces should better balance the need to be a regimented, yet relevant, organisation, he said. The Victoria Junior College student was part of the first all-teenager focus group discussion on how to strengthen the commitment to national service.

Seventy-two students, aged between 16 and 18, took part in Wednesday's discussion - the 17th in a year-long series of focus groups and feedback sessions being spearheaded by the Committee to Strengthen National Service.

The students asked questions ranging from how to make the younger generation relate to NS, to what they wanted NS to be like in the future.

One suggestion they made: Servicemen should be allowed to choose military vocations that will best showcase their abilities and expertise. For instance, someone who has an interest in physics should be allowed to serve in an engineering-related job.

Another hotly discussed topic was allowing women to volunteer for NS - an issue which was brought up in earlier focus group discussions.

Isaac Chia, 18, who will enlist at the end of the year, said: "If girls also go through NS, the social stigma of the military being male-dominated and only for tomboys will be gone."

Agreeing with him, Esther Tay, 16, said she is willing to do a volunteer stint of about six months. "We may not have to do physically demanding work but can apply our research skills in some jobs to experience what it means to defend the country."

The views will be sent to the committee chaired by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and proposals will be tabled next year.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.