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UWCSEA’s commitment to National Service

By Jules Wainwright, Multimedia Journalist
13 July 2022

 

Supporting graduates turn challenge into opportunity

Before entering his National Service (NS) in Basic Military Training, Teddy Lee ‘20 never imagined he’d find himself on a 24-hr training exercise, leading a platoon of cadets digging trenches in the middle of the night. Pulling up the earth in the darkness, he shouting encouragement to the soldiers around him. Despite the sleep deprivation, and the extreme physical and mental exertion, Teddy pushed on.

“This training exercise was the biggest single challenge of my two years in NS,” says Teddy. “But I was a lot better off than most because at school I’d done a lot of sport - swimming, running and rugby. And the fitness hugely helped me throughout my training. I also think being captain of the cross-country and swim teams gave me the confidence to talk to people, to motivate people to just do our best to get the job done.”

After completing two months of basic training, Teddy was posted to Officer Cadet School (OCS), and then promoted to officer. Now, as he completes his service with nearly two-years of real-world leadership experience under his belt, Teddy is preparing for his next challenge: university. In the fall he’ll fly to the UK to study Sport Science at Loughborough University. He is just one in a long line of UWCSEA graduates continuing the tradition of enlisting in NS before pursuing their university studies. 

LEADING THE COMMUNITY

Since its inception in 1967, more than 1 million young men have enlisted in Singapore’s National Service. As UWCSEA celebrates its 50th anniversary year, it continues its decades-long commitment to prepare students who enlist for NS after graduation. From information sessions led by alumni NSmen, to support from its University Advising team, the College recognises the value of supporting students who follow this path. 

And this isn’t limited to just UWCSEA students–the College hosts Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) information sessions open to multiple foreign system schools, acting as a community leader supporting families across Singapore’s international schools as they prepare to send their sons to NS. 

ACCORD was established by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) as a connector to the business, family and educational communities. Carma Elliot, UWCSEA College President, serves as a member of the ACCORD Educational Institutions Council, where she actively promotes the understanding and support of NS. 

“We work with ACCORD to make sure that our National Service boys and parents are well aware of the process,” says Pat Desbarats, University Advisor and NS Coordinator at East Campus. “But also what basic military training will look like, the different positions that are available in NS and then their commitment long term after they finish.” Carma elliot - former uwcsea college president 

SUPPORT BEFORE AND DURING NATIONAL SERVICE

Reflecting on his last two years of NS, Teddy says his time at UWCSEA (which spanned K1 to Grade 12), helped him prepare in many ways. 

“When I entered my OCS training, I saw an opportunity to speak up about possible changes in the use of plastic, based on my experience at school,” says Teddy. “I also think the preparation I had, through Outdoor Education and Academics, made me seem like a good candidate for OCS.”

But it’s not just the holistic education process that prepares students for their time in NS - support structures are in place to help students navigate the move from school, to NS, and then onwards to university. 

“With NS, a student may sometimes worry they are going to fall behind their peers who are heading to university,” says Shruti Tewari, Interim Head of University Advising, Dover Campus. “We ensure they do everything that their peers are doing in the application process and it’s important to note that National Servicemen are never left without a contact person at school.”

UWCSEA also hosts informal information sessions led by alumni NSmen to share their experiences with current students who were due for enlistment. These sessions have benefited the school’s students and their parents who welcome the avenue to receive first-hand information and have their queries and concerns addressed.

“We make sure that the candidates are equipped for making decisions around future planning. And that includes college and university applications either before they go into National Service or while they're in their NS,” says Pat. 

STARTING THE NS JOURNEY

While Teddy Lee wraps up his NS journey, Arun Kukreja ‘22 is just about to embark on his. 

Arun says he plans to use the time in NS to reflect and grow, and then send out his university applications later this year. He sees his service time as an opportunity to prepare for his future. 

“I think you’re afforded some extra time to think about your future and tailor your applications more thoughtfully before applying,” he says. “This additional time, along with support from the University Advising Centre, is very helpful.”

Arun says the thing that’s helped most so far has been UWCSEA’s informal information sessions with alumni NSmen, where enlistees have a chance to ask questions directly to alumni who’ve been through the process.  

“I’ve gotten the chance to learn about their experiences,” he says. “This was really helpful in cultivating a relationship so that we always have someone to look up to and have a guiding light into the first few months of NS.”

TURNING CHALLENGE INTO OPPORTUNITY

“NS is a challenge, but it’s a matter of perspective - how can you turn this challenge into an opportunity?” says Shruti. “How can you make it the best for you?”

Although at opposite ends of their NS journey, this is a sentiment that both Teddy and Arun agree with.

“I'm looking forward to it, actually,” says Arun. “Many of the boys who have gone through it have told me it's helped them mature and develop as a person. It’s an experience that you don't really get in university. It's sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

As Teddy Lee comes to the end of his NS, he is taking some time to reflect, thinking about who he was at the start and who he has become. What would he say to a student like Arun who is just about to start his NS journey? “It’s like a lot of things in life - whatever you put into your National Service, you’ll get out of it,” he says. 

“So whether you want to give up at the beginning or whether you want to try your hardest, you will get what you deserve, essentially. So I tried really hard, I was able to get the officer rank, and I actually enjoy my job now. I like having this responsibility..”

“But in the end your story is going to be different from mine. So my advice is just to go in head on, do your best to make the most of it because if you do that,” he says, “it will be worth it in the end.”
 

NS MARK (GOLD)

Student involvement as part of their participation in the learning programme is a key to the success of numerous operational initiatives, from managing the compost systems, to helping the canteens become zero waste, to cultivating seedlings and maintaining gardens. It has been a conscious effort to build educational opportunities into as many aspects of the day-to-day operations on each campus as possible. This extensive network of real-life examples is now something that Ellie Alchin, Director of Teaching and Learning on Dover and Aman Singh Chauhan, Head of Facilities and Operations across both campuses, are working to extend by engaging the expertise of the Facilities and Operations teams who run the sustainable buildings in support of student learning in modules across the academic programme.

To this end, curriculum leaders have worked with the Facilities team to build nine sustainability case studies into the academic curriculum, extending the links already established in the Service curriculum. These modules are based on a model of place-based learning, a powerful approach that gives students hands-on experience and real-life examples by combining the on-campus environment with subject-matter expertise shared by the staff responsible for operating the facilities.

Tim Lovatt, in his role as Instructional Coach and Teacher of High School Physics on Dover Campus, was one of a team planning and conducting workshops in “how teachers think” for colleagues in the Facilities and Operations team. The workshops are designed to equip staff with tools and strategies to enable them to create a greater impact—both within their teams and in their interactions with students during the case study programme. "It’s been so awesome to work with such a talented and dedicated group of people. I am not aware of many other schools with non-teaching staff who are so eager to enhance their interactions with students," said Lovatt. "In particular it’s been such a pleasure to develop and run these workshops with a team who are so enthusiastically taking up the challenge and opportunity of sharing their technical expertise with our students."

NS Mark Logo

In April 2022, UWCSEA was awarded the NS Mark (Gold), recognising the college’s exemplary policies and HR practices supporting NS and Total Defence. “The NS Mark Gold recognizes employers who have taken additional measures to support the National Service and National Servicemen,” says Ron Chua, Head of Health, Safety and Risk at UWCSEA, and former Major Unit Commander in the Singapore Air Force. “The Gold Star accreditation is a reflection of its strong support for staff who need to balance their work and duty to serve the nation.”

National Service Talk with Alumni