Parliament: Overseas school trips to go on; MOE to set up panel to assess safety issues

Schools will not be allowed to organise student trips to Mount Kinabalu for the time being until Malaysia reviews safety measures for climbers. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu is seen a day after the earthquake in Kundasang, a town in the district of Ranau, on June 6, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Schools will continue to provide outdoor adventure learning programmes for students, be it in Singapore or overseas, as these programmes are "effective learning platforms", Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament on Monday.

At the same time, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will set up an advisory panel made up of both local and international experts who can help enhance the quality and safety of such programmes.

"This panel will provide MOE with additional inputs on enhancing the quality and safety of outdoor adventure learning programmes that are conducted locally and overseas," he said in a ministerial statement in the wake of the recent Sabah earthquake.

Details of the panel will be announced at a later date.

Last month, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Sabah claimed the lives of 10 people from Singapore, of which, seven pupils and two teachers were from Tanjong Katong Primary School.

The school had organised an overseas leadership programme to Mount Kinabalu for 29 pupils who were leaders in their co-curricular activities. The pupils were accompanied by eight teachers and three guides from Camp Challenge, a local adventure company.

Mr Heng emphasised that the natural disaster was an unforeseen one that could not have been prevented.

"Whether a participant perished in the earthquake depended on where he or she happened to be at the time. It made no difference whether the participant was a child or adult, novice or experienced mountaineer," he said.

He added: "Seismologists considered the probability of such a destructive earthquake happening in the area around Mount Kinabalu to be unknown. There was no prior warning.

"No matter how careful our schools may be in planning their overseas trips, events that are beyond our control and prediction may still occur, whether natural disasters or otherwise."

Still, as a safety measure, schools will not be allowed to organise student trips to Mount Kinabalu for the time being.

Mr Heng said the Malaysian government has said it will assess and monitor seismic movements in Sabah and review safety measures for climbers.

"Until the safety of Mount Kinabalu is ascertained by the Malaysian authorities, no schools will be allowed to take students there," he said.

Mr Heng added that the ministry conducts annual audits of schools' overseas learning journeys, where good practices are shared and areas requiring improvement are identified.

"In this year's audit, MOE will look at how to improve contingency plans for events, such as natural disasters," he said.

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