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Education and Military Service

For any K-pop fan, heartbreak is their favorite (male) artist’s military enlistment hiatus. Because South Korea is one of those countries where military conscription is mandatory for all adult male citizens.

But what is mandatory military service?

Every country has a military, but its ranks are filled in different ways. One of these ways is mandatory service–all citizens (generally males) are expected to complete a certain amount of time in active service.

Mandatory service takes on different forms in different countries. In South Korea, for instance, all men between the ages of 18-30 must enlist for 18 to 24 months. North Korea mandates eight years of service for men and five years for women from age 17 onwards. On the other hand, Nigeria has no mandatory military service but requires university graduates and polytechnics to participate in the National Youth Service Corps program for a year (known as national service year). All Singaporean 18-year-old males are required to complete a 24-month-long enlistment.

Mandatory military service is often argued against because it violates people’s rights to exercise free will. Since it is a compulsory mandate and any person who does not participate in service is treated like a traitor by the state, citizens do not have a choice in enlistment.

Compulsory services also have a direct impact on higher education attainment. Generally, service disrupts citizens’ educational journeys because they are drafted at the height of their learning ability. Individuals’ pursuit of higher education (as well as their entry into the workforce) is heavily delayed. One study conducted in the Netherlands, for example, found that compulsory military service decreases the proportion of university graduates by 1.5 percent and reduces the probability of obtaining a university degree by almost four percent.

Many see compulsory service as a duty to the nation and the very embodiment of patriotism. But is it really the best way to foster nationalism? Instead of constantly working on strengthening the military, would it not be better for the nation to invest more time and money in higher education?

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