Every year, thousands of students complete their programmes of studies from various tertiary institutions throughout the country. For most of these graduates or diplomates, when asked about their next step after school, two common words usually come up: National Service.
This year as anticipated, another group begins their national service and as always, there is mixed feelings. Although a lot look forward to this all important initiation ceremony with eagerness, some are skeptical. Others are also wrapped up with fear. This is the fear of the unknown: the fear of where one would find himself/herself: the fear of how relevant the posting would be to the programme pursued: fear related to safety and comfort. These are but a few of the things that go through the mind of most service personnel and all stem from people?s personal experiences. Most people look forward to their turn as national service personnel as a rite of passage! The discomfort however, is one that most people would want to avoid!

The National Service Scheme is an agency established under the ministry of education with the mandate of mobilizing and deploying Ghanaian newly qualified university graduates and diplomats on national priority development programmes that contribute to improving the quality of life of the ordinary Ghanaian for a year of mandatory national service. Hence the basic goal was for the service personnel to exercise their civil responsibility toward the nation through service.
Through this scheme thousands of university graduates and diplomates have rendered one form of service or the other in various public and private institutions and agencies throughout the country. Although primarily, the scheme seeks to recruit and post personnel to various institutions both private and public throughout the country usually under any field of endeavour, service personnel also set for themselves personal goals and objectives of obtaining some experience especially in the fields/area pursued in their respective tertiary institutions.
Generally, the scheme has been successful in the posting of service personnel but as expected, a lot more still needs to be done.
During the registration for service, students are requested to choose regions of preference although during the pre-registration orientation/briefing, some regions are blacklisted as no-go areas. The criteria of preference/choice of a region for service placement by recruits/personnel are mainly based on availability of accommodation (free accommodation if possible) since the scheme does not make provision for that. How convenient will it then be for a person to be posted to an entirely new/unknown terrain with no assurance of accommodation? Yes, having the service on an entirely new terrain affords one the opportunity to discover new places and get acquainted with new people, ultimately learning new ways of doing things but accommodation is a major factor that determines the choice of region and hence, consideration should be given to this and not just a mere assumption that all will be well. We all know the problems people encounter in moving to new environments; financial, physical, psychological, etc. In the end, most people lose interest in the service due to the problem of accommodation and consequently show no commitment to duty. The issue of mobilization is one that surely emerges each year and would forever remain! The Secretariat owes it to recruits in solving this pertinent issue. People get stranded each year, and would forever be! The initial expense in transportation, accommodation, among others is a major discouragement for most personnel.
What about language/cultural barriers? The scheme?s primary objective is to get service personnel posted but are these personnel prepared for the cultural implications? Our cultures differ from place to place and so how prepared or oriented are our personnel? How much do they know about the terrain they are venturing unto? All these come with its associated life threatening implications.
Has the National Service Secretariat considered the possibility of placing some personnel in their places of origin/hometown? Think of how appropriate and meaningful this service could be of serving your country through your own native land? If national service is about service to the nation, why not place emphasis on service to our native towns and villages? That could be a cultural expose for those who have not been to their hometowns and do not know much about their culture. Charity must surely begin at home!
The scheme was established basically to enable personnel or recruits carry out national priority development programme. From all indications, priority is not given to the personnel?s area of specialization although such details are taken note of during registration given that there have been countless instances where people have been posted to areas of no relevance to their area of specialization. Is the National Service Scheme then serving as a service or a disservice? Service to the nation and a disservice to personnel! For the scheme to be effective, all parties involved should equally benefit. If I am to perform my national service, I should in so doing gain some practical experience through the application of my knowledge or skills acquired in school. That will make the service worthwhile. I will definitely give my best in an area that suits my career goals.
Clearly, the National Service Scheme has a major problem. This problem is mainly related to the database or record keeping of agencies and organizations which serve as host institutions for the national service personnel. I believe the scheme has been in existence for quite some time now and they should have by now found a way of keeping track of possible host organizations and most importantly, make a yearly review of this register to take in new agencies/organizations that have been created within the year. They should be able to form an alliance so that postings are done easily and conveniently, thereby place personnel in their area of specialization. Placing service personnel in their chosen field of specialization will certainly make the scheme more attractive.
The National Service Scheme should also lay down some rules and regulations, a form of code of ethics binding the various host organizations/ institutions and personnel. This will ensure that the roles of the parties involved (institution and personnel) are outlined to make everything easy. Most at times, some institutions/organizations consider service personnel as a form of cheap/labour and hence treat them as they please. Such treatment, coupled with problems associated with accommodation, hostility of terrain, etc makes the scheme really unattractive. Is it then surprising that service personnel popularly refer to the scheme as ?National Suffering?? Self respect/dignity is also an essential tool for development and productivity.
The National Service Scheme is a good instrument especially for a nation?s capacity development and hence for it to be effective, a lot more investigation and research needs to be done especially in line with personnel?s comfort, safety and host institutions/organizations. Since the inception of this scheme, some lives have been lost partly due to the failure to consider some of these issues and so this matter should be taken seriously. Service personnel should be able to carry out their national assignment in a healthy, safe and to an extent, conducive environment with the right frame of mind.
National Service personnel are the investments of a nation in its future and should be treated as such. National Service personnel form the human resource base of this nation and so all efforts towards their development should be improved. If we want service personnel to show commitment to the National Service scheme, the scheme needs to be revised to make it more effective and meaningful.
By: Anna Esi Hanson ([email protected]), Takoradi.

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