ACCORD strengthens NS support, builds on past success

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27 Jul 2018 | MILESTONES

ACCORD strengthens NS support, builds on past success

// REPORT by Koh Eng Beng

// PHOTOS by PIONEER photographers & courtesy of NEXUS

English 华文

Each year, more than 30 students at Global Indian International School enlist for National Service (NS) after completing their high-school education. 

But these students often have anxiety, as they are Permanent Residents (PRs) or new citizens with little knowledge about NS training.

So in 2016, school principal Ms Madhu Khanna, 53, started inviting alumni who had served NS to share their experiences.

"They provided a lot of insights into what NS was about," said Ms Khanna, an Indian national. "Parents who wanted to know more about NS were also happy that the school was providing such information."

These NS information-sharing sessions were pioneered by the United World College of South-East Asia in 2015. 

Ms Khanna learnt about this idea during an Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) meeting. She has been a member of ACCORD's Educational Institutions council since 2016. 

Building on past initiatives 
Implementing such sessions at her school is an example of how ACCORD has been building on existing initiatives to widen its reach and impact. 

The council has started getting local schools to conduct NS information-sharing sessions for their secondary three students.

It has also introduced fitness programmes for pre-enlistees to more polytechnics, as well as international and private schools. 

"Since its restructure in 2014, ACCORD has helped MINDEF (Ministry of Defence) in coming up with new ideas to strengthen support for NS and defence, and, more importantly, putting them into action," said Senior Minister of State for Defence Mr Heng Chee How. He co-chairs the council with Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman.

ACCORD is a channel for the public to provide feedback to MINDEF and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on policies and issues related to NS and defence. 

In 2014, it was restructured into a more action-oriented platform. To this end, three councils (Employer and Business, Family and Community, as well as Educational Institutions) were formed to encourage ground-up initiatives.

NS-friendly culture
One such initiative is the NS Mark, a national-level accreditation scheme which recognises companies that adopt human resource practices that support their staff in fulfilling their NS duties.
Since its launch in 2016, more companies are supporting their NSmen employees through various ways, such as giving them time off to train for their annual physical fitness test.  

Mr Heng noted that the NS Mark had proven to be an "effective way of encouraging employers to adopt a more NS-friendly workplace culture". 

"More businesses have begun to share NS-friendly practices in their annual reports so that other businesses can learn from their efforts," he added. 

Recognising their contributions
Mr Heng was speaking at a Appreciation and Appointment function for ACCORD on 28 Jul.  

Together with Dr Maliki, Mr Heng presented letters of appointment to 18 new members of ACCORD and its three councils for a new two-year term.

They also presented letters of appreciation to 22 ACCORD members who will be stepping down later this month. 

Among them was Ms Khanna, who stepped down from ACCORD in order to concentrate on her new role as principal of Global Indian International School's East Coast Campus.

But she will continue to support NS in her own capacity. 

Influenced by her father, a former Air Force regular in India, she grew up with a strong belief in the importance of defence. 

She hopes to collaborate with local schools on projects that would enable her young students - undergoing elementary education - to better understand the country that they are living in.  

Continuing service
The remaining 51 ACCORD members will be continuing their services for another term.

Mr Mark Mah, executive director of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, is one of them. A member of ACCORD's Family and Community Council, he described his role as a "middle-man" who helps to keep his clan members updated on the latest developments in NS. 

Last year, the 60-year-old personally conducted a dialogue session for parents - who are new Singapore citizens or PRs from China - to allay any concerns they may have about their NS-bound sons, especially with regard to further studies. 

Using IT and engineering courses as an example, Mr Mah said: "I always tell the parents that it's better for their sons to do their NS first. Technology is moving so fast today, whatever they studied in university might be obsolete after they finish NS, so it's actually better for them to do their NS first. And the parents agreed after looking at this issue from a different perspective," he said.  

Another member who was reappointed is ACCORD's Employer and Business council member Eugene Seah. A senior director in urban and infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong, he hopes to tap on his construction industry network to influence more like-minded companies to support NS.

"Having more employers to come on board to support NS is important as a lot of NSmen are working in businesses and companies. Support from employers will help to give the NSman staff peace of mind when going back for in-camp training," said the 43-year-old.

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