Within a span of two days, two young men who have recently enrolled in the army, collapsed and died while undergoing military training. In Singapore, military training is mandatory for all male citizens. In a matter of 2 to 3 years, YK will be going to the army, followed by SK two years later.
As a parent, I am of course worried and concerned. According to my brothers and friends, the basic military training is no walk in the park. My older brother who underwent officer cadet training had it worse, compared to the younger one who was posted to Provost unit. Even then, any man in Singapore will tell you the 24 to 30 months in the army is not something they enjoyed very much.
I am not sure if any modifications have been made to the training programme through the years but I can certainly say that our kids these days are simply not the same. Our hospital data indicate asthma and allergic diseases are common, with up to 20% of schoolchildren with diagnosed asthma.
A typical kid spends a large part of the day in school, followed by home tuition. Any free time is spent in front of the computer or TV. Our public transport system is so efficient, bus stops are located so close to each other. We have MRT and LRT to take them everywhere. Kids these days don't even have to walk very much. Most of them spend half their life in air-conditioned rooms.
After almost 20 years of living a sedentary lifestyle, they're suddenly expected to toughen up and are pushed to the limits during the basic military training. The overweight ones will have to undergo an enhanced 15-week basic training programme.
Even for someone like me who had an active childhood and have been exercising all my life, I still find exercising strenuous if I had laid off for a few weeks. What more for these boys who had never been active all their life?
When my kids started secondary school education, I had wanted them to take up some form of sports. I was disappointed to learn that the schools only accepted students who are fit and already proficient in that sport. It's a chicken and egg problem. If they don't get a chance to enrol, how would they become proficient?
Even the TAFF programme which was designed to help the overweight students get fit was later scrapped because parents felt that their kids were discriminated. Secondary schools have only 1 physical education session every week, lasting 1 hr 20 minutes. That's hardly enough!
It's easy to say that parents should make it a point to toughen their kids up while they are young. Most parents are too busy working or not motivated enough to lead an active lifestyle. It takes alot of discipline.
CH was arguing that we cannot judge the overall fitness based on extreme cases. We don't hear when people break new sports records, or those who enrolled as fatties and emerged super-fit. In those cases when they die everyone knows.
While I agree with him, I still hope that something will be done soon before more young lives are lost. Whatever level of fitness they are at, these are promising young men with their lives ahead of them.