Wider reach for outdoor adventure lessons

Students from Grace Orchard School enjoying dragon-boating with volunteers from the YMCA of Singapore. Voluntary welfare organisations and special education schools also organise adventure camps.
Students from Grace Orchard School enjoying dragon-boating with volunteers from the YMCA of Singapore. Voluntary welfare organisations and special education schools also organise adventure camps.PHOTO: COURTESY OF YMCA OF SINGAPORE

Activities at new OBS campus will cater to students with physical disabilities as well

More emphasis has been placed on outdoor adventure education in recent years, but such activities do not just cater to students of mainstream schools here.

The outdoor programmes - which may feature expeditions and obstacle courses - also see participants who are in their golden years and those with special needs.

Last month, it was announced that all Secondary 3 students will have to undergo a new, five-day Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) expedition-based camp from 2020, when a new OBS campus on Coney Island is expected to be ready.

Responding to queries, the Ministry of Education (MOE) told The Straits Times that the activities at the new OBS campus will be designed to "include the needs of students with physical disabilities". MOE will also study how to modify its Outdoor Adventure Learning Centres.

Currently, the OBS campus on Pulau Ubin and MOE's learning centres offer limited activities for participants with physical disabilities.

"A fraction of OBS programmes is catered to the special needs profile over the years," OBS added, citing beneficiaries such as wheelchair users, the hearing-impaired and young people with mild intellectual disabilities. To let more such people enjoy the benefits of outdoor adventure, special effort is made to customise the intensity of the programme, mode of instruction, operations and supervision support.

Last month, it was announced that all Secondary 3 students will have to undergo a new, five-day Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) expedition-based camp from 2020, when a new OBS campus on Coney Island is expected to be ready.

Meanwhile, a few days after the announcement of the new OBS campus, Ms Joan Pereira, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, suggested in Parliament that OBS courses be conducted for senior citizens. She spoke from experience of having seen the benefits of OBS for seniors, when she organised a team- building activity at OBS in Pulau Ubin in 2011.

She told ST: "The seniors told me they felt a great sense of achievement, having completed the outdoor team-building obstacle elements which they initially thought was impossible to accomplish."

Ms Pereira organised another activity in OBS for about 40 seniors in 2013, where their tasks included having to climb a pyramid structure to a height of about 3m.

"The seniors were apprehensive at first, but the trainers gave clear instructions and guidance. Everyone cheered one another on too, which boosted their confidence," she said.

When asked if seniors could possibly be involved in OBS camps, OBS said it "will explore programmes for other segments in future if there are sufficient resources".

As of last year, OBS has been restructured as a national youth developer under the National Youth Council (NYC), and currently focuses its resources to serve youth.

Voluntary welfare organisations and some special education (Sped) schools, which cater to students with conditions like autism spectrum disorder and mild intellectual disability, also organise outdoor adventure camps. These include customised activities such as field cooking and team-building activities.

At the YMCA of Singapore, about 250 to 300 people with special needs - from age nine to 60 - take part in such camps.

Its assistant general secretary Samantha Seah said: "Through activities such as high rope elements and camp craft, our Y Camp Challenge camps give beneficiaries a platform to overcome their preconceived limits and empower them to emerge mentally stronger and more confident. This, in turn, provides newfound hope for their families."

Ms Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said: "Outdoor camps and other forms of education such as overseas trips are just as important... for students with special needs as for other students."

Students from Sped schools should be able to take part in the same camps with mainstream students whenever possible, she said.

"It isn't rocket science to study these students' needs" to determine if there should be any special safety or instructional measures to ensure their inclusion, she added.

Ms Phua said that at Pathlight School, which she co-founded, and Eden School, which she supervises as a board member, a framework has been developed to allow students to go on regular local and overseas trips as part of their character and life skills education.

"We should not deprive Sped students of... acquiring a full and enriching education," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Wider reach for outdoor adventure lessons'. Print Edition | Subscribe