As Singapore moves into the next 50 years of its development, Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) is set to play a critical role in toughening up its young people and providing them with a common experience in its rugged environment.
By 2020, all young Singaporeans will have the opportunity to go through an OBS camp at least once in their schooling years, announced Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the OBS campus on Pulau Ubin yesterday.
Noting how the path ahead for Singapore may not be an easy one, she said that OBS - originally mooted in 1967 by then Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee to "develop youth with a spirit of derring-do" - can be a "common experience for all young Singaporeans".
"Our future remains uncertain. We live in a more diverse society. We face the threats of terrorism... We need to continue to build up our youth... so that when the going gets tough, we will be resilient and hardy enough to overcome it together, to bounce back," said Ms Fu.
With the $250 million expansion of OBS to Coney Island in Punggol, announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat last week, the capacity of OBS will be tripled by 2020. Some 45,000 young people will be able to attend an OBS camp every year, up from the current 14,000. This includes students at the secondary and tertiary levels, as well as young working adults.
The area occupied by OBS @ Coney is equivalent to 12ha, or about 14½ football pitches. It will be situated on the south-eastern end of Coney Island, close to the bridge that connects the island to Pasir Ris. The rest of the island will remain open to the public.
Mr Ng Chun Pin, deputy chief executive of the National Youth Council (NYC), which OBS is part of, said the new site on Coney Island was picked because of its proximity to the mainland, serving as a gateway for new activities. For example, participants may be able to go on multi-element expeditions on customised bicycles, with kayaks or canoes attached, to explore Singapore's coastal waterways and park connectors.
While the structure of the typical five-day camp has not changed, programmes will now have a greater focus on problem-solving as a team, and pay attention to social integration and diversity. OBS will work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to ensure that there will be more "deliberate mixing" of students from various types of schools in the camps, and also craft different expeditions to cater to those with different physical abilities.
MOE said it will announce more details about making OBS available for more students soon. NYC and OBS also said they may hold public consultations, given that OBS may pan out to become "more like a national institution" in the future.
Said Mr Ng: "Today, you have your national service, which benefits only the guys... (OBS can be) a rich and meaningful programme for all our youth to take Singapore to the next level."
Ms Denise Phua, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, applauded OBS' emphasis on inclusivity.
"Students with special needs can also partake in all or part of the OBS with the right needs assessment, training and support. (They) must be included in the main chapter of the Singapore education story," she said.
Mr Chan Wei Guan, 44, who has two sons and a daughter, said attending OBS should be made compulsory. "OBS is a good place to build up physical and mental resilience, even if it's for only a few days."
Sociologist Paulin Straughan, however, cautioned against making the OBS programme compulsory. "Social integration needs to be done by choice. If they feel that it needs to be done out of compulsion, this misses the point completely."
•Additional reporting by Ng Keng Gene