The potential positives of the Government's decision to install a second, more elaborate Outward Bound School in Coney Island are obvious. As a personal challenge, the OBS experience calls for mental resolve to attack an acute obstacle course that tests every inch of the sinews of participants.
As a team-building compact, it persuades participants to recognise trust and teamwork as non-negotiable instruments of success. To help build a community spirit, a common OBS experience is invaluable.
Singaporeans stick out as the only thoroughly urban nation within the region. Exposing the young to bracing physicality is crucial to balance a default environment of bricks-and-mortar and air-conditioned comfort. This is needed all the more these days when the young seem to spend more time indoors with their smartphones and computers than having fun outdoors.
Building tough and well-rounded individuals isn't the only gain. The OBS experience can, over time, grow another thread of shared experience among Singaporeans - arguably, even more so than national service as eligibility is virtually unrestricted.
For these reasons, the estimated price tag of a quarter of a billion dollars for this state-of-the-art second school appears to be worth the investment, even if the sum is 10 times more than the reported cost of the previous campsite in Pulau Ubin in 1995. The Coney Island school can accommodate 45,000 participants annually, or thrice the current capacity, and could promise every Singaporean an OBS experience at least once in their school life.
Yet, ramping up the course on such a scale may require institutionalising safety considerations. Amid the physical challenges, even a single serious accident must be seen as one too many. It is right to assure parents that their children's safety will not be compromised as the young are encouraged to acquire "a sense of adventure and tenacity to overcome challenges", as the OBS puts it.
Tripling the number of instructors to 330 can help to ensure that while the young are not mollycoddled, they are also adequately supervised so a single rash or mischievous act by a youngster does not lead to unexpected or serious consequences. Just as instructors fully imbibe the OBS spirit of "purposeful experience in the outdoors", so must parents support the objectives of OBS if the young are to derive the full benefits of the programmes.
Parents must recognise that while the OBS experience shares similarities with national service in developing ruggedness and resilience among the young, they are quite different schemes. OBS can help the digital generation to relate well to one another even under tough physical and mental conditions. That is a precious asset that's well worth acquiring.