New Outward Bound Singapore at Coney Island: 5 things to know about OBS

Outward Bound Singapore instructors unfurling a sail bearing the school crest on the Indiana, a replica of the ship that bore Sir Stamford Raffles into Singapore, at the OBS 40th Anniversary Celebration and book launch at Pulau Ubin.
Outward Bound Singapore instructors unfurling a sail bearing the school crest on the Indiana, a replica of the ship that bore Sir Stamford Raffles into Singapore, at the OBS 40th Anniversary Celebration and book launch at Pulau Ubin.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Outward Bound Singapore, the site of camps and outdoor adventures for generations of Singaporeans, is getting another campus on rustic Coney Island.

The new campus, announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat during his Budget speech on March 24, will cost about $250 million and be ready in 2020.

Outdoor adventure education for all will be expanded, said Mr Heng, to help youth develop a sense of adventure, resilience and a readiness to challenge themselves to be their best.

The new campus will be rustic and blend in with the rest of Coney Island, where a nature park opened to the public last October. The island is connected to the mainland by two bridges on its western and eastern ends to Punggol Promenade and Pasir Ris Coast Industrial Park 6.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted on Facebook on March 25 an old photograph of him at Pulau Ubin and reminisced about his experience in Secondary 4, calling it "a significant growing up experience".


Here are five interesting facts about the Outward Bound School.

1. How Outward Bound International got its start

German educator Kurt Hahn, who studied at Oxford and was exiled for speaking out against the Nazis, was recruited by shipping company owner Lawrence Holt to help train young sailors.

Holt had noticed that during the Battle of the Atlantic, when the British and the Germans were fighting a running naval battle, many young seamen were dying as they were not equipped to deal with harsh physical conditions.

Holt asked Hahn to help design a training programme for the Blue Funnel Shipping Company's young sailors and their 28-day programme was launched on Oct 14, 1941.

The name Outward Bound was chosen as it is a nautical term for a ship leaving the harbour for a journey.

2. How Outward Bound came to Singapore

In 1967, Dr Goh Keng Swee suggested establishing an Outward Bound School in the newly independent Singapore, to provide education, leadership and character training for Singaporeans. On Feb 17, 1968, the first OBS course began.

OBS is a part of the Outward Bound International's network of approximately 40 schools in 33 countries.

Over the years, OBS improved its facilities on Pulau Ubin.

For example, a man-made reservoir was built in 1995 so that OBS could be self-sufficient. The reservoir can provide water for up to 1,000 people a day.

On Sept 27, 1997, a new OBS centre was opened. The centre was the first purpose-built Outward Bound centre in the world.

3. Standout features on the OBS campus at Pulau Ubin

OBS tests not just the physical endurance of participants but also their ability to work in teams. Hence the obstacle courses are designed with this in mind.

Participants navigate the Inverse Tower obstacle at the OBS on Aug 24, 2010. PHOTO: SPH

One popular feature is the 20m high inverse tower, which is part of the high elements course. The base of the tower is narrower than its top and the only way to get to the top is for participants to work in pairs, helping to lift each other up.

Another highlight of the campus is the Indiana, a 30m by 8m square-rigged sailing ship. It is built in the style of Sir Stamford Raffles' ship and it houses the challenge course, which features rope-walking and climbing activities.

Other activities build simulations around the obstacle course, such as the Alpine Rescue, where participants have to transport a stretcher from one end of the obstacle course to the other, and the Tunnelling and Simulated Caving, where participants have to navigate a pitch-black tunnel, with only light sticks to guide the way.

4. An international network of experiential learning

A young volunteer showing a glass bottle she picked up at a beach on Pulau Ubin in a coastal clean-up operation organised by OBS Alumni on Sept 7, 2013.  PHOTO: OUTWARD BOUND SINGAPORE

Outward Bound International has more than 250 wilderness and urban locations around the world. A quarter of a million people participate in Outward Bound International's programmes every year.

In 1993, the inaugural Overseas Youth Programme was launched as part of OBS. The programme allows participants to visit countries in the region, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. For instance, participants on Outward Bound Malaysia take part in jungle trekking and kayaking expeditions. Schools have a choice between sending their students for overseas or local programmes and some schools subsidise their students.

5. OBS today

More than 100 people stepped off the edge of The Merlion’s mouth at Sentosa and abseiled down the iconic structure to raise awareness and funds for a children’s charity on July  20, 2013. PHOTO: OUTWARD BOUND SINGAPORE

In 1970, OBS aimed to prepare young men for enlistment into national service.

It has evolved over the years to "provide education, leadership and character training; developing the physical, mental and spiritual faculties of boys, girls, young men and women of all races of Singapore".

Today, an average of 14,000 youth a year are enrolled into OBS programmes by their schools. Most students attend the Youth Navigator Programme, a four-day programme for character building, as part of their curriculum. Schools also nominate student leaders for the five-day A Leader's Journey Programme for leadership development.

Sources: Outward Bound Singapore, Outward Bound International, National Archives of Singapore