From ‘Rethink rationale for overseas school trips’, 8 June 2015, ST Forum
(Ramesh Niedu): IN THE light of news of the ill-fated Mount Kinabalu school trip (“9 S’poreans feared dead in quake”; yesterday), I urge the Ministry of Education to seriously reconsider its rationale for overseas trips for students, particularly those at the primary and secondary levels who are too young to go on such trips, especially a mountaineering one.
Such trips should be only for students at the junior college or tertiary levels, who are older and more safety-conscious. I am a parent with young school-going children, and I experience much anxiety whenever they go on overseas school trips.
If the rationale is that overseas trips contribute to character development, then such trips should be for cultural exchanges, for instance, rather than for physically demanding mountaineering expeditions at dangerous locations. Such trips should also be confined to our neighbouring countries, so as to keep costs low.
It’s not true that the older you are, the more ‘safety-conscious’ you become. Just recently, a 21 year old man fell off a Bali cliff after being hit by a wave while taking photos. Besides, even with the most rigorous of preparatory training, no one, young or old, would be able to fend off the onslaught of a natural disaster. The writer above recommends ‘cultural exchanges’, which I suppose entails playing ice breakers in the security of a hotel, in the heart of the city next to a police station, in a country where no terrorist would ever think of carrying out a bomb attack. Oh, not to mention in a building that’s fireproof, tsunami and typhoon-proof. Wait, scrap that, let’s just do Skype and Facetime from the air-con comfort of the classroom instead. More cost savings, less risk of being sent hurtling from a mountain towards certain death.
During the bird flu epidemic in 2005, people complained about kids being sent to be community work in a Vietnam orphanage. Others griped about flu vaccines not being given to some kids travelling to China. More recently, a parent questioned why there was no travel advisory for MERS when her son was sent to Medan (More stringent travel advisories needed for overseas school trips, 21 May 2014, ST). To be fair, the Ministry has done a decent job making sure that none of our children got exposed and bring deadly bugs back into the country. But alas, we only remember the nasty trips when shit happens, taking for granted all the many other uneventful ones where kids actually come back in one piece, whether they’re scaling mountains or participating in Maths Olympiads, thanks in part to the care and dedication of their teachers, who may very well be more stressed over their charges than some parents themselves.
Thousands of children have been sent abroad, with parents accusing some ‘exchange’ programs of being unnecessarily extravagant, like Kinderland sending toddlers to Japan during autumn for example. Most come back with nary a scratch, while others who remain school-bound get goddamn Hand Foot Mouth Disease. The KK incident is a tragic anomaly, and no amount of advisories or protection could have saved the kids from this merciless act of God. Or in the case of the Sewol ferry sinking in South Korea, a case of human ‘gross negligence’. That doesn’t mean we should cut back on overseas trips that have the slightest hint of rugged adventure, when even a joyride down a river, or the building of a house, could end up in catastrophe if fate wills it.
I never had the chance to venture to even Sentosa when I was in primary school, and the closest I had to ‘outdoor’ activity was camping in the school’s football field, where the only skill I learnt was how to pee discreetly when no one is looking. If I had to weigh the risk of getting crushed by a boulder, drowning in a sinking vessel or getting sucked into the sky by a tornado vs a once-in-a-lifetime adrenaline-rush experience enduring physical hardship with friends, character-building or not, I would choose the latter. And then make sure I’ve got really good travel insurance.
RIP, young ones.