Some years ago I visited Cuba and at that time all young people at age 16 years were required to do military service, two years for boys, one year for girls. After that they pursued higher education or employment. I propose a scheme whereby young people aged between 16 and 18 years are required to complete a year of community service before moving on to further training or career. One of the differences between teenagers from affluent homes to those from less advantaged backgrounds is the former often on completing education have a “gap year” when they seek experience, often abroad, to widen their life experience before settling into further study. The National Youth Service would require all young people to experience something on an equal footing. It would provide a measure of discipline and self discipline, and would mix people from all backgrounds together, something which I hope would encourage understanding and tolerance of others at an age when young minds are open. For some it would give them experience outside of their geographic and cultural environment, and perhaps give them role models outside of their usual daily experience. I also hope it would encourage more of them to envisage a career in the NHS or similar organisation so that we fill the vacant posts with local people rather than recruiting them from less developed countries where their skills are needed in the country that trained them.
My proposal for the year would see it divided into four parts of three months. The first part would follow a syllabus looking at physical and mental health. It would include a visit of at least a week to an outward bound centre. There would be some classroom sessions examining diet, cooking, physical education and psychological preparation for adulthood., this could be undertaken at a local further education college. The second part would be a period devoted to improving the level of educational achievement, and for this private schools could be encouraged to input tutoring. A third part would be spent within the NHS, care or charity sector, learning the rewards of making a contribution to the health of the community. The final part might be an “internship” within public or private sector giving each young person an opportunity to experience the world of work but maybe not what they previously envisioned, and could include science and engineering, agriculture, or even the arts. That would require all parts of our society to make a contribution to the development of our young people, and perhaps discover or develop talents that our society needs, as well as those our economy needs. At the end of the year the young person would receive a certificate and I rather hope there would be a “passing out parade” at which family and friends could celebrate their achievement.
I would expect there to be some flexibility in the scheme but overall would hope that young people of all physical and mental abilities could be offered a version of the scheme adapted to their needs. By offering this opportunity at age 16 years I hope it would mean the young people had enough maturity to make the most of it but before they lost aspiration. For those already keen to follow a particular path in work or career it would give them a period of broader experience, whereas those who at sixteen still felt a bit young to commit to a certain path it’s a chance to envisage a different future.
Some of this idea comes from the experiences in my own life which I felt influenced my choices, and some from hearing men from a previous generation talking about doing National Military Service in Britain after the second world war, where a good many discovered talents and had their eyes opened in a way that had not been possible in civilian life. I’m aware that there have been voluntary schemes which covered some aspects of this, eg Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Scouting Movement, Boys and Girls Brigades, St John Ambulance, various services Cadet schemes but my proposal of a National Scheme would ensure it includes everybody.