Height-based school activities resume after 2-year pause following fatal incident

A student from Gan Eng Seng School tackling an obstacle course at the Jalan Bahtera Outdoor Adventure Learning Centre on Wednesday. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE – School activities conducted at height resumed on Wednesday after a two-year pause triggered by the death of a 15-year-old boy in February 2021.

One of the first schools to restart these activities was Gan Eng Seng School, which is holding a camp for its Secondary 3 students at the Jalan Bahtera Outdoor Adventure Learning Centre.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing visited the camp with the media on Wednesday to observe about 80 students zip-lining, abseiling and climbing on purpose-built structures at the centre in Lim Chu Kang.

The resumption came with enhanced safety measures, said the Ministry of Education (MOE).

First, the centre’s height activity stations were operating at no more than half of their normal capacity, so students had more time for each activity, the ministry said.

All activities at height will operate at this reduced rate until March 31.

Moves have also been made to tighten safety processes, said master outdoor adventure educator Kuang Yoke Wee, 53.

Mr Kuang, who is based at the MOE headquarters, said on the sidelines of the event: “There is a new accreditation requirement for instructors, and we have also worked to strengthen accountability.”

This includes having instructors sign off detailed safety checks before issuing equipment such as harnesses to students, he added.

Height-based activities had been suspended since February 2021, after an incident that resulted in the death of 15-year-old Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student Jethro Puah.

Jethro had lost his footing on a rope course at Safra Yishun and lost consciousness while he was suspended by the safety harness in midair. He was taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, where he died the next morning of multiple organ failure. He had been strangled and had also suffered traumatic asphyxia, where external compression to his upper torso restricted his breathing. A worker at the course was later charged with causing death by a rash act.

MOE suspended outdoor activities involving heights for all schools after the incident. The ministry operates four centres that conduct these activities. Such activities are also run by Outward Bound Singapore, which operates two centres.

Students told The Straits Times on Wednesday that they were excited about the activities and the opportunity to bond with their new classmates.

Nguyen Bao-Anh, 15, was doing a high-challenge course, where students have to go through a series of obstacles, including pushing a large sphere and crossing ropes while harnessed at a height of about 3m.

She said: “This is the last day of our (three-day) camp and it’s been really great for making friends because we just changed classes (at the start of the new school year).

“I was more excited than scared.”

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