50th anniversary of OBS

'Can do' spirit thrives at OBS

Secondary 3 students on an urban land expedition in Punggol in 2011. Participants picked up leadership and navigational skills as they navigated through housing estates and the Lorong Halus Wetland.
Secondary 3 students on an urban land expedition in Punggol in 2011. Participants picked up leadership and navigational skills as they navigated through housing estates and the Lorong Halus Wetland. PHOTO: ST FILE
A group of female participants at a three-week course on Pulau Ubin in 1969. The group, which included students, mothers and members of the armed forces, took part in confidence course activities like scaling a 3m-high wall.
A group of female participants at a three-week course on Pulau Ubin in 1969. The group, which included students, mothers and members of the armed forces, took part in confidence course activities like scaling a 3m-high wall.PHOTO: ST FILE
The OBS Challenge Race in May this year, an adventure race for participants of the Outdoor Education conference to apply the skills they had learnt during the conference.
The OBS Challenge Race in May this year, an adventure race for participants of the Outdoor Education conference to apply the skills they had learnt during the conference.PHOTO: ST FILE

Even as it celebrates its golden jubilee, adventure school training still relevant to today's youth

For Outward Bound Singapore (OBS), a lack of natural obstacles was certainly not an obstacle.

Unlike most other Outward Bound schools overseas, OBS could not completely rely on Singapore's natural landscape as features in obstacle courses for its trainees. It had to build facilities at its campus on Pulau Ubin, such as a multi-dimensional rock wall, climbing towers and a training pool for kayaking.

While it used to ferry over bottles of drinking water, OBS has been self-sufficient since 1995, with its own man-made reservoir catering to as many as 1,000 people a day.

The story of the outdoor adventure campus, widely seen as the first purpose-built OBS centre in the world in 1997, reflects a "can do" spirit that OBS has tried to cultivate in some 500,000 trainees over the last 50 years.

OBS - part of a global network of adventure schools modelled after a British school for sea merchants that was founded in 1941 - celebrates its golden jubilee this year.

It has come a long way here since it began in 1967 as a training ground for young men joining national service. While OBS still provides activities such as trekking and kayaking, it now caters to students from upper secondary onwards.

LIFELONG LESSONS

The never-say-die attitude from the tough training at OBS put me in good stead for the many challenges in my life.

MS JACQUELINE CHUA, 57, a retired teacher who attended OBS in 1977.

To mark its 50 years, OBS, now part of the National Youth Council, planned a series of events this year, including a homecoming last Saturday at Pulau Ubin. About 500 OBS participants, instructors and staff - past and present - relived memories, and also participated in water and height activities, and nature and heritage trails.

  • Milestones

  • 1967

    Then-finance minister Goh Keng Swee proposes the setting up of the Outward Bound School of Singapore (OBSS) as part of efforts to "build a rugged society". The school is established under the People's Association (PA).

    1968

    The first OBSS course is conducted.

    1970

    The Ministry of Defence takes over the running of OBSS. Its programmes help to train young men for enlistment into national service.

    1991

    When the PA takes over the running of the school, it is renamed Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) .

    Plans are laid to expand and redevelop the existing Pulau Ubin facilities into a modern OBS centre.

    1997

    Then-prime minister Goh Chok Tong officially opens the new camp in Pulau Ubin, widely regarded as the world's first purpose-built modern Outward Bound centre.

    2007

    PM Lee Hsien Loong visits OBS in commemoration of its 40th anniversary. The OBS logo is refreshed for a more modern look.

    2010

    OBS hosts over 1,000 international athletes for the Singapore Youth Olympic Games.

    2012

    OBS forms an alumni network to promote youth engagement and community outreach.

    2015

    OBS is restructured as part of the National Youth Council.

    2016

    Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announces that a new OBS campus will be built on Coney Island, as part of the National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan.

    September 2017

    OBS celebrates its 50th anniversary with a series of events, including a homecoming dinner last Saturday.

    Lim Min Zhang

Mr Ng Thian Choon, 45, deputy director of programmes and partnerships at OBS, said: "Outward Bound training is still very relevant to today's generation, even into the future, because we're talking about a world where it is highly complex, ambiguous and volatile.

"This is where I see OBS, which focuses on resilience-building and strengthening social cohesion, will continue to be very important."

He said OBS will play a bigger role in youth development.

From 2020, all Secondary 3 students have to go for a five-day OBS expedition-based camp which gathers young people from different schools and aims to impart skills such as resilience and teamwork.

Currently, about 14,000 young people take part in OBS programmes each year. This number is set to triple to 45,000 by 2020, when a new OBS campus is built on Coney Island.

For Mr Muhammad Noor Shalihhin, 19, attending an OBS course in March was like going back to basics. He did not have Internet access or his mobile phone during the 21 days of the course, where he cooked outdoors for the first time.

The ITE student, who is studying for a technical diploma in culinary arts, even wrote a letter by hand to his family, which OBS staff helped to post.

Mr Muhammad Noor also learnt to push himself physically and mentally, especially during the runs.

He said: "At first it was difficult. I was always the last one. But my instructor and batchmates motivated me and pushed me to go forward.

"Before I joined OBS, it would take me 18 minutes to run 2.4km, but on the last day of the course, I clocked 12 minutes."

Overcoming his phobia of heights on the 20m inverse tower - a climbing structure with objects such as tyres, ropes and logs - was another achievement. "When I reached the top, I felt so happy... I thought I wouldn't make it," he said.

Retiree Jacqueline Chua, 57, who attended OBS in 1977 and later went on to be a teacher for 22 years, said: "Before OBS, I was like a piece of drifting wood in the sea.. as my inner strengths had not been put to the test.

"But the never-say-die attitude from the tough training at OBS put me in good stead for the many challenges in my life."

 
 
 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline ''Can do' spirit thrives at OBS'. Print Edition | Subscribe