OBS a must? Many parents back it but...

Minister Grace Fu (in pink) on a water raft that was constructed by OBS participants. Parents who spoke to ST said they were mainly supportive of making OBS compulsory as long as safety measures are adequate.
Minister Grace Fu (in pink) on a water raft that was constructed by OBS participants. Parents who spoke to ST said they were mainly supportive of making OBS compulsory as long as safety measures are adequate.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Supporters welcome outdoor learning, but others say it may not be suitable for all

With the Government ramping up the capacity of Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) by 2020, all Singaporean youth will have a chance by then to take part in a camp there at least once in their school days.

While it is hoped that OBS will allow youth from different schools to interact, views are mixed about whether it should be compulsory for them to spend time at the outdoor adventure learning school.

Supporters said it will help the young go beyond book learning.


Said former Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong of the Workers' Party, who often comments on education issues: "OBS is one way to develop students beyond academics.

"We can also look at achieving holistic development through CCAs (co-curricular activities) and other programmes to ensure continuity."

Parents told The Straits Times that they were mainly supportive of making it compulsory, as long as safety measures are adequate.

Ms Tan Teing Im, 47, a teacher who has two daughters, said: "The teenage years are a good time to expose children to outdoor learning, although we need to bear in mind that some are not adventurous and we cannot force them to do something they are not ready for."

Activities like rope courses should be age- and ability-appropriate, she added.

Also in favour was Ms Chan Choy Wei, 40, a housewife with three children. "Our kids are not spending enough time doing physical activities, and spending too much time staring at screens."

But others pointed to the drawbacks of making OBS mandatory.

Mr Gene Kam, a former OBS employee of eight years, said: "Most students would be keen to participate in the past because they were selected. When you triple the numbers, the likelihood of encountering those who are not so keen will grow."

On Wednesday, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu announced that the school, which will expand to Coney Island, will offer 45,000 young people an opportunity to take part in an OBS camp every year, up from 14,000.

Mr Kam, 46, who is now a director of an outdoor education company, said more effort is needed to engage participants even before they embark on the programme.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan also opposed making OBS compulsory as young people might have a negative attitude about the experience if they felt coerced into it.

She said: "Students should be allowed to opt in or opt out. If the programme runs well, there will be a line of people waiting to get in."

More effort is needed to plan a meaningful course, she said, as what is seen as resilience for one generation might not be the same for the next. "Resilience for the older generation might mean being able to endure the heat while being outdoors for a long time, or running long distances. But for the younger ones, it could mean being able to withstand social isolation."

Ms Chan Ser Huang, 51, a housewife with two sons, is also against enforced OBS courses: "Outdoor activities are not suitable for everyone. Also, I'm not sure if the integration will last beyond the camp."

Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng said the crux is not about whether OBS is compulsory.

"In the long term, it's about young people going outdoors from all walks of life, coming together with a spirit of teamwork and ruggedness. Not because they've been told to, but because it is a way of life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'OBS a must? Many parents back it but...'. Print Edition | Subscribe