Compulsory National Youth Service
This if from an article I wrote for Farrago, I think it comes out in the last issue of the semester. Not sure if I really believe in what I’m saying, just wanted to explore the idea.
Many countries around the world call upon their young men and women to serve the country or the community when they come of age. In Israel, this means being in the Army for a few years, while in Denmark it could mean helping with disaster relief. Proponents of the system argue that it builds discipline and character and that it is a way of giving back to the society that has provided for you for nearly twenty years. Detractors argue that it’s a waste of effort in peacetime, or even go as far as to say it’s a way for the Government to brainwash future citizens. We’ve never had any non-wartime compulsory service in Australia, but perhaps it’s time we at least considered the benefits that such a system could bring.
Rather than just becoming recruits and learning how to shoot things, 18-year-olds could work for the emergency services, non-profit and charity organisations or fill Government-administered jobs in the education or public health sectors. The effects of this would be widespread and significant: increased general involvement in the community, experience and much-needed responsibility for the youth, a lessening of the financial burden on the Government (and hence taxpayers) and aid to the consistently marginalised sectors of society. Even if each 18-year-old only served for one year each, that’d be a consistent labour force of around 150,000 people. The imagination is the only limit to how this force could be put to use to solve the problems our society currently faces.
Charity and non-profit-organisations could make applications to the controlling body of the National Australia Youth Service (NAYS) and argue their case for how they’re helping the community. There are thousands of charities in Australia helping the poor, the sick or even the environment. They all have one thing in common, however: each is desperate for more hands on deck. It could be Red Cross asking for a staff of thousands of young men and women to help collect blood donations, maybe a foundation planting native trees in areas suffering from intense salinity or perhaps a tiny soup kitchen in Fitzroy which need helpers for the morning rush of homeless. The shortage of worthy work will never be an issue.
The allocation of young people to the required tasks will be based on their physical ability, high-school results, interests, prior experience and location. Also under consideration will be whether or not they need to be provided for while doing their work – or if their family can support them easily. Obviously, cases for exemption will be heard, but there aren’t many reasons why someone can’t help the community and some way. Penalties for refusing service will have to be strict to ensure the system isn’t just laughed at or ignored. The option given to 18-year-olds would be: spend a year helping your community or spend that same year in a jail cell. The Government could make sure that the tertiary educators allow everyone to defer their course selection for that same year. The system of National Youth Service has worked for many decades in South Korea, Singapore, Austria, Norway and many other countries around the world – there’s no reason why we couldn’t pull it off too.
Not to say that its implementation will be smooth or in any way easy. It can be expected that many kids with grand plans for the future (and their parents) will be outraged at the disruption. There might be protests or even some early resistors (who will presumably relent when they see the hungry look in their cellmate’s eyes) – but there’s always friction in the change of a system. It’s not that hard to plan a gap year, so many already do it. A far bigger problem will be ensuring that during the year the young adults put in effort and thought to what they’re doing. Poor attendance and shoddy work will be rewarded with a downward shift towards harder, more menial tasks. This will allow those who give it a real go to move upwards into more rewarding places. The final straw in extreme cases for not doing the job they’re supposed to could, again, be imprisonment. As for the costs in administering the system, these would surely be outweighed by the reduction in financial strain that will occur in Government sectors when primary school gardeners and hospital receptionists alike are working for free.
A commonly asked question will be “Why should I have to spend a year of my time helping others when I could be earning money or studying?” Basically, because the work you will do will improve the lives of those in your community more than you could possibly imagine, and in doing so broaden your horizons as you interact with elements of society with whom you have never had any real contact before. Working at high-responsibility jobs alongside people who didn’t go to your high school, are in a distant economic bracket or follow a different religion will help to bring down some of the very real barriers in the community – the barriers that lead to the ignorance about the growing homeless population on our streets or even to the Cronulla riots.
Our society is constantly becoming more selfish and insular at a time when we increasingly need to consider the problems in our society and how to fix them. A compulsory youth service scheme will force every generation to confront bigger issues than how they can get a job at KPMG in record time, or who is being eliminated from American Idol. The only reason problems like poverty, sickness and increasing carbon emissions are still prevalent is because of a disgusting (and sometimes wilful) ignorance. It is high-time that we consider stricter measures to ensure the next generation understands how the real world operates – and what needs to be done for our children to live in a fair, just and sustainable world.