Height-based school activities were suspended till January after zipline accident last year

After the incident, all height-based activities in schools were suspended. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education (MOE) had put in place additional protocols to make zipline activity safer at all schools since Jan 5, following an incident involving a Primary 4 pupil in February last year.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the MOE said on Tuesday (Feb 9) that a girl from Concord Primary School in Choa Chu Kang had fallen while doing a zipline activity in the school as part of her co-curricular activities (CCA).

"The school had rendered full support to the student and family for her medical treatment and return to school," said an MOE spokesman.

After the incident, all height-based activities in schools were suspended. The suspension was extended till January owing to the Covid-19 situation, MOE said.

The ministry also reviewed processes and these updated protocols were issued to schools that have zipline systems. They came into effect on Jan 5.

On Feb 4, however, all schools suspended outdoor activities involving heights with immediate effect. This followed a high-element incident at Safra Yishun on Feb 3 involving a 15-year-old student. The boy died in a hospital the following morning.

Of the incident in February last year, the MOE spokesman said the instructor was removed from MOE's registry and has been suspended from offering services to all MOE schools.

"The safety of our students is of utmost priority to us and we view these incidents very seriously," the spokesman said.

The new protocols following last year's February incident included measures like having an additional instructor to check that everything is in accordance with the safety checklist before a participant is allowed to get on the zipline.

Schools must ensure the instructors have the relevant certifications before hiring vendors for such activities, and also need to have at least one certified person on site to handle rescue situations when necessary.

Such qualifications would include the Outward Bound Challenge Course Instructor Level 2 (valid only at MOE facilities), Association for Challenge Course Technology Level 2 Full Certification or equivalent documented Challenge Course rescue and certification.

Mr Delane Lim, founder of FutuReady Asia, a member of the Outdoor Learning & Adventure Education Association which represents more than 20 operators of camp and enrichment programmes, said in light of the recent events, one of the things his company is exploring is to have body and helmet cameras.

"This may allow us to have extra eyes on the activities and if a group isn't carrying out the proper protocols, someone from a remote location can intervene and urge caution. But first we want to make sure we don't violate any privacy laws before we introduce this," he said.

He also noted the Covid-19 enforced break may have meant some instructors and freelancers have not had enough practice and may have been unfamiliar with the new protocols.

Rock walls in schools have also been closed. Only bouldering on low walls, which do not exceed a height of 4 metres, is allowed.

Mr Rasip Isnin, secretary of the Singapore Mountaineering Federation, said: "We understand the need for MOE to suspend their high element activities for now till they complete their investigations.

"For sport climbing and abseiling activities, we will continue to emphasise the importance of safety management of all programs while delivering the activities' objective through our instructors."

Parents ST spoke to acknowledged the value of such activities as they encouraged team work and helped to develop qualities like resilience, independence and courage but stressed safety must remain the top priority.

Manager Alice Tang, 43, who has four children with her second son in primary school, said MOE was right to suspend all high element activities and should also explore alternative activities that achieved the same objectives but carried lower risk to participants.

In this year's incident, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student Jethro Puah lost his footing and was "suspended by the safety harness" in mid-air, police said.

He lost consciousness while suspended and paramedics from the Singapore Civil Defence Force tried to resuscitate him at the scene before taking him to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, where he died the following morning.

The police told ST on Wednesday (Feb 10) they have completed investigations for the case involving the Primary 4 pupil and are in consultation with the Attorney-General's Chambers.

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