PARLIAMENT

Schools to continue outdoor learning trips at home, abroad

A route called the Via Ferrata (or Iron Road in Italian) on Mount Kinabalu, before the June 5 earthquake. In a ministerial statement, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said the Sabah earthquake was an unforeseen natural disaster that could not have b
A route called the Via Ferrata (or Iron Road in Italian) on Mount Kinabalu, before the June 5 earthquake. In a ministerial statement, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said the Sabah earthquake was an unforeseen natural disaster that could not have been prevented. The 6.0-magnitude quake killed 10 people from Singapore, of which seven pupils and two teachers were from TKPS. ST FILE PHOTO

But school trips to Mt Kinabalu temporarily suspended as a safety precaution: Minister

Schools will continue to provide both local and overseas outdoor adventure learning programmes for students because they are useful and effective tools for learning, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday.

But as a safety precaution, all school trips to Mount Kinabalu will be suspended for the time being.

In a ministerial statement on the tragedy that befell Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) pupils and teachers when they went up Mount Kinabalu for a trip on June 5, Mr Heng said the earthquake in Sabah was an unforeseen natural disaster that could not have been prevented.

The 6.0-magnitude quake killed 10 people from Singapore, of which seven pupils and two teachers were from TKPS. An adventure camp guide from local firm Camp Challenge also died in the incident.

The school sent 29 pupils and eight teachers to Mount Kinabalu for its annual leadership camp for pupil leaders.

Said Mr Heng: "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.

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

"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 not."

Mr Heng said the Malaysian government has said it will assess and monitor seismic movements in Sabah and review its 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.

But even as the Ministry of Education (MOE) is taking extra precautions with Mount Kinabalu, Mr Heng said outdoor learning journeys are "effective learning platforms" that build confidence, adaptability, and resilience.

MOE will set up an advisory panel comprising local and international experts to enhance the quality and safety of such outdoor 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," said Mr Heng.

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

Mr Heng added that MOE conducts annual audits of schools' overseas programmes, where good practices are shared and areas requiring improvements are identified. This year's audit will focus on improving "contingency plans for events such as natural disasters", he said.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) and Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) had asked if MOE would consider giving special awards - even posthumously - to those who had shown bravery during the disaster.

In response, Mr Heng said: "We will honour the staff and instructors who accompanied our students to Mount Kinabalu in a manner that is befitting of their courage and sacrifices."

More details will be released at "an appropriate time", said Mr Heng. He added that MOE's foremost priority is to provide support and counselling to TKPS pupils, teachers, and the victims' families, which will go on as long as needed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'Schools to continue outdoor learning trips at home, abroad'. Print Edition | Subscribe