Editor’s note: the following speech was delivered by Dr Benedict Tan, a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), during a sitting of Parliament on Friday, March 6, 2015. The speech is posted with his permission.

NMP Ben Tan outdoor education

Ben Tan: “The pic is from an adventure with my NUS schoolmates to Taman Negara (Malaysia) in the late 1980’s. It was the first time I saw the locals catch fish from the river with their bare hands!” (Photo courtesy of Ben Tan)

Years ago, I was on a socio-civic mission to a rural part of Indonesia. With me was a group of Singaporeans in their late teens. One of them pointed to an animal crossing a road and remarked, “Eh, what kind of cat is that? It’s so big!” I glanced at the so-called “cat” and was dumbfounded. It was actually a goat! You see, this young man had never seen a goat before, and is only familiar with domesticated cats and dogs.

Madam Speaker, I would like to suggest that outdoor education feature more prominently in our school curriculum. I declare that I am the President of the Singapore Sailing Federation.

Previously, there was much emphasis on the majority of students attending the Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) at least once during their school life. Hence many of us grew up with trekking, orienteering, camping, kayaking and sailing experiences, which would not have been easily accessible to the average child living in an urban environment.

Outdoor education is now more important than ever, as Singapore becomes more urbanized and our young spend more time in front of computers. Outdoor education instills an appreciation and respect for nature, builds character, independence, resilience and leadership. Surely Basic Military Training (BMT) cannot be the first time that a youth is faced with the jungle and having to fend for himself.

When MOE first pushed for outdoor education, many schools ensured that each cohort would have undergone an OBS course at least once during their school life. Over the years, my impression is that fewer and fewer schools insist on this, with OBS reserved for only selected groups of students, such as during orientation or leadership training. Also the outdoor education may have become too tame, with some schools counting pitching a tent on the school field as outdoor education.

I am heartened that, as of the beginning of this year, OBS has become a part of the National Youth Council (NYC), and would be spearheading NYC’s efforts as a national youth developer. And from my understanding, the annual capacity of OBS would be significantly increased in the coming years to broaden its outreach and engagement with our youth. This is an exciting prospect, as all Singaporean youth would once again have the chance to experience adventure-based learning from the passionate instructors at OBS. I know that many of these instructors welcome the renewed focus on our youth.

But with around 40,000 students in each cohort, I hope that the MOE will fully leverage not only on OBS, but also the MOE Adventure Learning Centre and other providers to put every single one of our youth through a quality outdoor education programme.

I hope the MOE can update the House on the percentage of students from each cohort who has undergone a proper outdoor education experience, and whether there is any intention to increase this percentage.

Are we rugged enough?

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Earlier this year, Dr Ben Tan gave a speech in the Singapore Parliament which resonated with a lot of people. You can read it here.