Letter of the day

Forum: Are high-risk activities essential to character-building?

I refer to the recent report on the death of an Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student during an outdoor adventure camp (Schools suspend activities involving heights following death of 15-year-old, Feb 5).

Schools have been conducting outdoor adventure camps for Primary 5 pupils and Secondary 3 students for at least two decades. Depending on the co-curricular activity a student joins, he may also attend additional adventure camps at other levels.

The typical objectives of these camps are to develop good character, such as being confident and resilient, and for students to learn to work effectively in teams, as well as to instil desirable values such as being independent, taking initiative and showing empathy.

However, what many people fail to realise is that developing such characteristics is complex, and instilling such values in a child is not straightforward.

Many factors come into play, including the child's upbringing and personality.

These characteristics are not developed instantly after a three- or four-day camp, and the responsibility of developing a child in this regard certainly should not be pushed to the schools; parents have an equally if not more important role to play.

If one understands that character-building is more complex than what meets the eye, the concept of developing good qualities through high-element obstacle courses would seem ambitious.

Does navigating a course at the height of a two- or three-storey building help to make one more confident? Does jumping off a three-storey-high structure instil resilience?

There are many other ways of imparting values and building good character in a child.

Schools can still conduct camps, but instead of incorporating high-risk activities, they can consider games and case studies that encourage problem-solving, for example.

More important than a three- or four-day camp are the daily interactions a child has with his family and the learning journey he undertakes in school - what are parents and teachers doing to encourage students not to give up halfway through a project; what are they doing to help students speak more confidently; what are they doing to instil good values in children?

These camps may have been held for the longest time without any major incidents, but this does not legitimise their effectiveness or their importance in developing a child.

Before more incidents happen, it is imperative that the Ministry of Education review whether or not such high-risk activities are essential to character-building.

Michelle Ng

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