Friday, 1 April 2016

OBS @ Coney: Outward Bound Singapore set to be rugged new melting pot

It will triple capacity so that youth can share experiences, develop toughness for future
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 31 Mar 2016

As Singapore moves into the next 50 years of its development, Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) is set to play a critical role in toughening up its young people and providing them with a common experience in its rugged environment.

By 2020, all young Singaporeans will have the opportunity to go through an OBS camp at least once in their schooling years, announced Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the OBS campus on Pulau Ubin yesterday.

Noting how the path ahead for Singapore may not be an easy one, she said that OBS - originally mooted in 1967 by then Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee to "develop youth with a spirit of derring-do" - can be a "common experience for all young Singaporeans".

"Our future remains uncertain. We live in a more diverse society. We face the threats of terrorism... We need to continue to build up our youth... so that when the going gets tough, we will be resilient and hardy enough to overcome it together, to bounce back," said Ms Fu.

With the $250 million expansion of OBS to Coney Island in Punggol, announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat last week, the capacity of OBS will be tripled by 2020. Some 45,000 young people will be able to attend an OBS camp every year, up from the current 14,000. This includes students at the secondary and tertiary levels, as well as young working adults.

The area occupied by OBS @ Coney is equivalent to 12ha, or about 14½ football pitches. It will be situated on the south-eastern end of Coney Island, close to the bridge that connects the island to Pasir Ris. The rest of the island will remain open to the public.

Mr Ng Chun Pin, deputy chief executive of the National Youth Council (NYC), which OBS is part of, said the new site on Coney Island was picked because of its proximity to the mainland, serving as a gateway for new activities. For example, participants may be able to go on multi-element expeditions on customised bicycles, with kayaks or canoes attached, to explore Singapore's coastal waterways and park connectors.

While the structure of the typical five-day camp has not changed, programmes will now have a greater focus on problem-solving as a team, and pay attention to social integration and diversity. OBS will work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to ensure that there will be more "deliberate mixing" of students from various types of schools in the camps, and also craft different expeditions to cater to those with different physical abilities.

MOE said it will announce more details about making OBS available for more students soon. NYC and OBS also said they may hold public consultations, given that OBS may pan out to become "more like a national institution" in the future.

Said Mr Ng: "Today, you have your national service, which benefits only the guys... (OBS can be) a rich and meaningful programme for all our youth to take Singapore to the next level."

Ms Denise Phua, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, applauded OBS' emphasis on inclusivity.

"Students with special needs can also partake in all or part of the OBS with the right needs assessment, training and support. (They) must be included in the main chapter of the Singapore education story," she said.

Mr Chan Wei Guan, 44, who has two sons and a daughter, said attending OBS should be made compulsory. "OBS is a good place to build up physical and mental resilience, even if it's for only a few days."

Sociologist Paulin Straughan, however, cautioned against making the OBS programme compulsory. "Social integration needs to be done by choice. If they feel that it needs to be done out of compulsion, this misses the point completely."

Additional reporting by Ng Keng Gene

Minister Grace Fu just announced the details of the OBS Expansion Plan! This expansion will provide many more youths...
Posted by Outward Bound Singapore ( OBS ) on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Was at Outward Bound Singapore ( OBS ) yesterday to share about its expansion plans. I also had the chance to join some...
Posted by Grace Fu on Thursday, March 31, 2016

Expanded facilities on Coney Island will allow more to take part
By Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 31 Mar 2016

The current Inverse Tower at Outward Bound Singapore's (OBS) Pulau Ubin campus is meant to test one beyond his or her perceived limits, and inculcate teamwork.

But it can accommodate only eight teams of two people working together. New rope courses at the upcoming OBS @ Coney campus could allow up to six teams of eight people to participate together.

"Usually when we design some of these facilities, you have an average of two groups or three groups at one time. Our new facilities will be expanded, so that they can take up to six groups in the same area to utilise the space better. Critically, it will also provide challenges that are more team-oriented," said Mr Nicholas Conceicao, the executive director of OBS.

Such new facilities are among the many ideas that OBS is looking into, to fully utilise the potential of OBS @ Coney and its location.

Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Chairperson for National Youth Council, Singapore, climbing the Inverse Tower at Outward Bound Singapore ( OBS ) campus on Pulau Ubin with a Kranji Secondary School student. Ms Fu is expected to share OBS’ expansion plans and its new campus at Coney Island.(Video: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY)
Posted by TODAY on Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said: "Coney is linked to mainland Singapore, so it's in a great position to launch both sea and land expeditions across Ubin, Coney and the mainland."

One possible expedition could involve cycling and coastal paddling, allowing young people to explore waterways and park connectors as far away from Coney Island as East Coast Park, on customised bicycles and kayaks. This would allow special needs youngsters to participate as well, which is part of OBS' push to become more inclusive in its programmes.

National Youth Council (NYC) chief executive David Chua said public consultations will be held to gather opinions on what people would like to see and experience in the new campus.

"I envisage that across the five years of building, we will consult many focus groups on a constant basis. We first started gathering feedback at the end of 2015," he said.

OBS will have to increase its staffing to prepare for the new campus. While it currently employs about 110 people, it will require triple the number to cope with the increased participant numbers.

Staff do not include only instructors, but also a vast range of support staff like field supervisors, medical staff and a logistics team.

"Our intention is to embrace diversity, forge a common experience and be inclusive. Youth today grow up in very varied backgrounds. Our programme aims to bring youth together and forge a shared experience for all," said Mr Ng Chun Pin, NYC's deputy chief executive.

Outward Bound: How it evolved
By Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 31 Mar 2016

Outward Bound was the brainchild of German educator Kurt Hahn.

He had been recruited by Mr Lawrence Holt, owner of the Liverpool-based Blue Funnel Shipping Company, to design a training programme for young sailors, many of whom he noticed were not equipped to handle harsh physical conditions.

The first Outward Bound course, which lasted 28 days, began on Oct 14, 1941. There are now about 40 Outward Bound schools in 33 countries.

Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) was first suggested by Dr Goh Keng Swee in 1967, when he was Minister for Defence. He believed that a newly independent Singapore would require education, leadership and character training for young people.

While OBS aimed to prepare young men for national service in 1970, it has evolved over the years to cater to students from upper secondary onwards.

Around 14,000 enrol in OBS programmes a year, although the number is expected to increase to 45,000 with the new campus on Coney Island.

OBS a must? Many parents back it but...
Supporters welcome outdoor learning, but others say it may not be suitable for all
By Yuen Sin and Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 1 Apr 2016
With the Government ramping up the capacity of Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) by 2020, all Singaporean youth will have a chance by then to take part in a camp there at least once in their school days.

While it is hoped that OBS will allow youth from different schools to interact, views are mixed about whether it should be compulsory for them to spend time at the outdoor adventure learning school.

Supporters said it will help the young go beyond book learning.

Said former Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong of the Workers' Party, who often comments on education issues: "OBS is one way to develop students beyond academics.

"We can also look at achieving holistic development through CCAs (co-curricular activities) and other programmes to ensure continuity."

Parents told The Straits Times that they were mainly supportive of making it compulsory, as long as safety measures are adequate.

Ms Tan Teing Im, 47, a teacher who has two daughters, said: "The teenage years are a good time to expose children to outdoor learning, although we need to bear in mind that some are not adventurous and we cannot force them to do something they are not ready for."

Activities like rope courses should be age- and ability-appropriate, she added.

Also in favour was Ms Chan Choy Wei, 40, a housewife with three children. "Our kids are not spending enough time doing physical activities, and spending too much time staring at screens."

But others pointed to the drawbacks of making OBS mandatory.

Mr Gene Kam, a former OBS employee of eight years, said: "Most students would be keen to participate in the past because they were selected. When you triple the numbers, the likelihood of encountering those who are not so keen will grow."

On Wednesday, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu announced that the school, which will expand to Coney Island, will offer 45,000 young people an opportunity to take part in an OBS camp every year, up from 14,000.

Mr Kam, 46, who is now a director of an outdoor education company, said more effort is needed to engage participants even before they embark on the programme.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan also opposed making OBS compulsory as young people might have a negative attitude about the experience if they felt coerced into it.

She said: "Students should be allowed to opt in or opt out. If the programme runs well, there will be a line of people waiting to get in."

More effort is needed to plan a meaningful course, she said, as what is seen as resilience for one generation might not be the same for the next. "Resilience for the older generation might mean being able to endure the heat while being outdoors for a long time, or running long distances. But for the younger ones, it could mean being able to withstand social isolation."

Ms Chan Ser Huang, 51, a housewife with two sons, is also against enforced OBS courses: "Outdoor activities are not suitable for everyone. Also, I'm not sure if the integration will last beyond the camp."

Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng said the crux is not about whether OBS is compulsory.

"In the long term, it's about young people going outdoors from all walks of life, coming together with a spirit of teamwork and ruggedness. Not because they've been told to, but because it is a way of life."

Many benefits to reap from outdoor adventure education

I welcome the move to expand outdoor adventure education (OAE) for all students ("$250m Outward Bound campus for Coney Island"; last Friday, and "OBS set to be rugged new melting pot"; yesterday).

OAE provides a platform of education that goes far beyond what the traditional classroom can offer.

Due to the nature of experiential learning in the natural outdoor environment, lessons learnt are more likely to be ingrained and can exert a stronger influence on an individual's attitudes and habits.

Years ago, I decided to take a year off my medical career to pursue my passion in outdoor adventure.

I undertook several mountain-climbing expeditions and challenged myself to scale Mount Everest.

These experiences not only tested my limits and challenged my notions of leadership, self-reliance, perseverance and adaptability, but they also led me on a journey of self-discovery about my own physical, mental and emotional strengths.

Team-based OAE like the programmes Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) offers presents other advantages.

It encourages individuals from different backgrounds to work together to overcome obstacles, and, in the process, helps them develop strong camaraderie and bonds.

During my mountain expeditions, I developed friendships with many other determined individuals, including the Sherpas, who aided us with their unparalleled motivation and will.

There was no need to differentiate ourselves in terms of race, religion, language and social backgrounds as we learnt to work effectively together.

We can be confident that shared experiences through OAE can help cultivate broadened minds and cohesion in our society - much needed in our multicultural, multiracial Singaporean community.

As we nurture a new generation of youth, it is also important to prepare them for greater competitive pressures, by equipping them with the confidence and resilience to overcome the challenges and uncertainties they are bound to face.

It is my hope that the new OBS campus on Coney Island can offer even more interesting and challenging expeditions that make use of Singapore's other nature parks and water areas, by connecting beyond the small area - 10 per cent - it will occupy as part of Coney Island ("New Outward Bound Singapore campus to occupy 10% of Coney Island; 45,000 youth to take part every year by 2020"; ST Online, Wednesday).

Doing this will also encourage our youth to appreciate Singapore's nature offering and rich biodiversity.

I am confident that our youth will benefit richly from this.

Kumaran Rasappan (Dr)
ST Forum, 1 Apr 2016

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