Teenage rite of passage: Outward Bound Singapore marks 50th anniversary

MOE-OBS camp gives Sec 3 students a five-day taste of the outdoors where teamwork becomes second nature

Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, having come a long way since its days as a sort of boot camp to prepare young men about to enlist in national service.

Today, this pioneering centre in outdoor education, which is now part of the National Youth Council (NYC), has one of the largest Outward Bound centres in the world on Pulau Ubin, and plans to build another campus on Coney Island.

The expansion is timely and in line with the Ministry of Education's (MOE's) plan to put more emphasis on holistic student development, outside of classroom learning.

MOE announced the National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan last year and shortly after that launched the MOE-OBS Outdoor Education Programme, under which every Secondary 3 student will experience a five-day expedition-based camp from 2020.

OBS camps have long been something of a teenage rite of passage, where 15-year-olds who may not be used to "roughing it out" get a taste of the great outdoors. More than 500,000 young people have emerged from the programmes with battle scar-like mosquito bites. Most can brag about answering calls of nature in the middle of the sea, with a handful even proud of the fact that they managed to survive without a cellphone for five days.

While students tend to bond naturally over hardships that become bragging rights, what really brings them closer are their shared tasks, as I saw for myself while following a group of 12 teenagers for five days back in May.

Having gone through a similar five-day programme with OBS some 14 years ago, this camp was not entirely unfamiliar. If anything, the adventure aspect was heightened.

Egos had to be put aside in order for missions to be completed, and as the group got to know each other better, teamwork became second nature. Participants could forget about being selfish when they not only had to share their living space, but also their food and water during expeditions.

It was also a good chance to find out one's strengths and weaknesses, and, to a certain extent, use them to the group's advantage. It could be someone's obsessive-compulsive nature which made ration division and housekeeping a breeze, or a natural climber who would help his buddy overcome his phobia of heights during a tandem climb on the famed 20m-high inverse tower.

Diversity is also a key component of the new MOE programme, with a minimum of two different schools taking part at the same time. Emphasis is placed on pre- and post-camp activities such as preparation and reflection, aimed at giving students a better understanding of how what they learnt at camp can be transferred to aspects of their lives.

By the end of this year, an estimated 7,000 Sec 3 students would have gone through the new programme. MOE plans to roll it out to all schools when the OBS campus on Coney Island is completed in 2020.


Watch 12 students go through their five-day course. http://str.sg/4RDi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'Teenage rite of passage'. Print Edition | Subscribe