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National Service in Singapore

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UWCSEA works with families and boys to prepare students for National Service enlistment and supports them through their univeristy applications afterwards.
Gary Seston
High School Vice Principal, UWCSEA Dover

Gary joined the College in 1984 as a Biology teacher and held a variety of positions of responsibility in both academic and pastoral sections before leaving to become Deputy Head of a school in southern Spain with the brief to act as a catalyst for change and to re-engineer the school's ethos. There he engaged in an ambitious project to implement an innovative holistic curriculum centred on independent student learning. He also successfully coordinated the school's IB authorization and CIS accreditation before returning to the College in 2008 to take up his current position.

A graduate of York University (BA Hons 1st) and post-graduate of Exeter University (PGCE), and intent on understanding all facets of education, Gary pursued a broad spectrum of teaching experiences in his early career by taking positions in greatly varied schools within UK including Exmouth Community School, Stockton on Tees comprehensive and Harrogate Grammar School before moving further afield to Singapore. He has also worked as an IBEX examiner, curriculum developer with the IBO and as an educational consultant and author with both Hodder Murray Publishers and Oxford Press.

Gary is a keen racket sportsman, outdoor enthusiast, naturalist, angler and self-confessed addict of family life. He and his wife Mel, a Singaporean, have a son, Adam, who is currently serving his second year as an officer in the Singapore National Service.

Molly Fassbender
Communications and Marketing Executive

National Service in Singapore

How UWCSEA works with families and boys to prepare students


In the 2015 graduating class, 31 boys from Dover Campus and 11 from East Campus will enlist in National Service (NS) in Singapore. Both Singaporean citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs), these UWCSEA graduates will spend two years as full-time National Servicemen at some stage over the next three years. 

Starting National Service can be a daunting prospect for many students and their families. It can be difficult to accept that while their peers are getting ready to go to university or on a gap year, it will be two or three years before they have the opportunity to do the same. To help NS-liable students prepare for this commitment, UWCSEA has developed a programme to assist them both physically and emotionally. This starts as early as Grade 9, and includes information evenings for families, individual counselling and NS camp visits and fitness training.

A programme of support

The first step for most families is attending a NS information evening, organised by the University Advising Centre (UAC) team on Dover or East Campus. Families are encouraged to attend a session prior to their sons’ mandatory NS registration at age 16 and six months. These events provide an overview of what NS involves, and UWCSEA alumni currently undertaking their NS share their experiences and answer families’ questions. As part of this session on Dover Campus, Gary Seston, High School Vice Principal also shares his experiences, both personal and professional.

Later on, in Grades 11 and 12, UWCSEA organises visits to NS camps, and in the past few years after-school fitness training for NS-eligible boys has been offered on Dover Campus. Gary also counsels families one-on-one, answering any questions they may have regarding NS enrollment. 

Before and after NS, the UACs help these students with their university applications, whether they complete NS in Singapore or in another country.

An alumnus’ perspective

Adam Seston (Class of 2011, Gary’s son) completed his NS in February 2014. Adam started in basic military training, and then entered Officer Cadet School, which included two overseas training tours, to Brunei and Taiwan. In Brunei, Adam underwent platoon training and completed an extreme jungle confidence course. The officers were later sent to Taiwan, to experience platoon and company training in cooler weather conditions. In his final year, Adam was enrolled at the Infantry Training Institute, where he worked as a platoon commander and trainer to assess the operational readiness of battalions. Adam reflects on how UWCSEA helped prepare him for NS: 

“UWCSEA taught me the skills of critical thinking and how to work well in a group, which were invaluable assets for my time as an officer. The emphasis UWCSEA puts on group work taught me how to understand different cultures and how to work together successfully. The difference between being a great soldier and a great leader, is your ability to work well with others, and UWCSEA taught me the skills of leadership and understanding, time and time again. As part of the jungle confidence course, I completed a nine-day trek with only two days worth of food through the jungle of Brunei with nine other men – an unforgettable experience in group work!”

Now in his first year of a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of British Columbia in Canada, Adam shares how NS helped to further prepare him for university, “NS served as great preparation for university…Whereas my friends are getting flustered or stressed about deadlines or exams, I am able to keep a level head and work my way through. I also learned that what I put into life, is what I get out. I was really pleased that I opted for the ‘harder’ route in my NS training, and chose to become an officer cadet…I learned so much, and really exceeded my own expectations of what I am capable of.”

Collaboration with MINDEF

As the College looks to further support families whose children have a NS commitment, we are also working with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to help improve communication about the NS programme. MINDEF has made a concerted effort in the last few years to reach out to NS-liable boys to address their concerns, and UWCSEA is keen to support this effort. Head of College Chris Edwards will be serving for the next two years as Chair of the Educational Institutions Committee, a part of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence, which was established to deepen engagement with different segments of the Singapore population. 

In September, UWCSEA is planning an information session about NS open to NS-liable boys and their families at international schools across Singapore, addressing questions about enlistment procedures, and giving families a chance to hear from NS men and their parents. 

National Service is a fact of life for many of our students and UWCSEA and MINDEF are working together to make the process a more positive one, and to highlight the benefits NS can offer.


Adam Seston, NS Graduation


Parade formation


NS men during the Jungle Confidence Course



8 Jun 2015
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