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National Service and the art of hesitation

Nov 28,2018 - Last updated at Nov 28,2018

Nineteenth century British scientist Thomas Huxley once said: “Make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation."

The government's step to make "National Service", which was supposed to replace the shelved military service, non-mandatory reflects a deep state of reluctance engulfing its decision-making process. Apparently, when Prime Minister Omar Razzaz announced the national service among his government's priorities for 2019-2020, the word "optional" was missing, simply because it was not. 

Days later, Minister of Labour Samir Murad said that “National Service” was an optional programme intended for those who were “unlucky academically” and would wish to enrol in the programme to get training and join the workforce in the fields of industry, construction and tourism. 

There is nothing new in that, and it is anything but a National Service. It is merely a vocational training programme that is a copy paste of others already implemented and have made partial successes but failed to change a social culture that still prefers a university degree, regardless how useless it is employment-wise, to learning a trade that ensures a decent life for young people.

Vocational Training Corporation (VTC) director, Omar Qteishat, told The Jordan Times earlier this year that his agency had been applying a similar programme for more than a decade, involving fitness training and awareness lectures for its trainees across the Kingdom for a month every year. Army, police and civil defence personnel provide the training that has targeted, so far, more than 17,000 young men, while around 4,000 women have received some sort of training under the plan. 

Anyway, we need an evaluation of VTC's project and of another major one, implemented by the National Employment and Training Company, a 51-49 per cent partnership between the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army and the VTC. This same programme is voluntary, offers monthly allowances to and transportation for trainees, and connects them with the local labour market through partnerships with the private sector.

Certainly Razzaz and Murad know that, and one can safely assume that they did want an inclusive National Service, where young people learn “values of discipline and seriousness, along with job skills”, but something came up and they had a change of heart. 

My advice: Do it all or do not do it at all. Half solutions are no solutions. This programme is doomed to failure. You cannot go public saying that the programme is intended for those who are “unlucky academically”, a euphemism for another description, and expect thousands of young Jordanians to show up at your doors with filled applications. A famous quote attributed to Einstein says: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

This is not to say that vocational training programmes should be stopped. What you need is to empower the VTC and it will take it from there, and the military is always ready and capable of helping. But when you need to run a national service, that is a different story, entailing that all young men, the rich the poor, the educated and the "academically unlucky", join the army, train, eat and live together. And with the skills they are taught, they help build schools and other public facilities, replace guest labour in qualifying industrial zone factories, as soldiers, plant trees to stop deforestation, help villagers pick olives and dig wells, in the service of their nation. 

It can be optional, yes, but for women, as one step towards changing a culture that sees females less able of serving their country.

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