The radio station’s plan which was announced on Monday at a meeting at Port-of-Spain’s City Hall insisted there would be no military training, but failed to explain what was meant by compulsory national service and how the execution of this concept would motivate the target group, aged 15 to 25 years, to engage in serious study.
The proposal of compulsory national service, which is a marked departure from what is generally accepted internationally, is at best idealistic. Indeed, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines compulsory as “required by law or a rule; obligatory. Involving or exercising compulsion; coercive.” With respect to national service it states: “A period of compulsory service in the armed forces during peacetime.”
How do the planners intend for the authorities to compel or even persuade the scores of school dropouts, its target base, to take part in a two-year programme in which they would be taught Basic Arithmetic, English and Computer Studies, among others? In turn, bearing in mind that the starting age of persons in the initiative is 15, well within the period Trinidad and Tobago children are required by law to attend school. Admittedly, the radio station has indicated that each participant would receive a stipend, 50 percent of which would be paid directly to the individual and the remainder to an account on his/her behalf.
It should be noted, however, that there have been reported instances of University of the West Indies and other tertiary education students, although they received stipends, yet had been known to absent themselves, either for whole days or not insubstantial portions of other days. Although they were not part of a national compulsory service plan they received stipends funded with taxpayers’ money and would have been expected, as well, to give full value for the money received.
This is not to suggest that we do not recognise the importance of developing strategies to encourage school dropouts back into the classroom environment. Nevertheless, we have to be clear in our minds how we set about implementing these strategies and marketing them as well as you are going to have your literal “conscientious objectors.” However, the strategies have to be properly defined and well within the understanding both of the groups which the strategies seek to assist and concerned taxpayers.
Even as the radio, spoke of a National Compulsory Service it qualified this by stating that the plan sought to cater to at-risk young Trinidadian men of African descent, who were between the ages of 15 and 25, from the East-West Corridor and from districts between Point Fortin and La Brea. Does this mean that the proposal was designed to exclude not only persons of other ethnic groups in the country between the ages of 15 and 25, but young women of African descent and other groups as well?
While it is bad that the proposal is not clear with respect to its definition of compulsory service it is immeasurably worse with regard to its use of the word national which clearly should have embraced all of the ethnic groups in multi-cultural Trinidad and Tobago. We, however, agree with the approach that there would be “no training in handling weapons, neither in hand to hand combat.”