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OBS’ mission to help youth be more rugged ‘more relevant’ today: PM Lee

SINGAPORE — Describing how children are more sheltered and have fewer chances to “rough it out” these days, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that they can learn to be more tenacious and resourceful by going for outdoor adventures with the Outward Bound Singapore (OBS).

PM Lee, together with Tay Jing Xun, 15, an Outward Bound Singapore participant from North Vista Secondary School, mount the OBS nautical wheel on Coney Island to symbolise the expansion of the future use of the island by OBS. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

PM Lee, together with Tay Jing Xun, 15, an Outward Bound Singapore participant from North Vista Secondary School, mount the OBS nautical wheel on Coney Island to symbolise the expansion of the future use of the island by OBS. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

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SINGAPORE — Describing how children are more sheltered and have fewer chances to “rough it out” these days, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that they can learn to be more tenacious and resourceful by going for outdoor adventures with the Outward Bound Singapore (OBS).

Above: Participants of Outward Bound Singapore dismantle tents on Coney Island on Wednesday (Nov 29). Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

Speaking at the institution’s 50th anniversary celebrations on Wednesday (Nov 29), he pointed out that its mission now is “more relevant than ever”, which is to “develop mentally and physically rugged youth to be active citizens inspired to serve the community”.

When former Cabinet Minister Goh Keng Swee set up the school in 1967, he thought it would help to build ruggedness and resilience in young Singaporeans in the early days of nationhood, PM Lee recalled.

Fast forward to today and the need for such training has not waned.

“Our children are growing up in a much more developed and urbanised environment,” Mr Lee said. “There are fewer opportunities to rough it out in the outdoors, and shelter from bad weather is usually just a few steps away. Parents, teachers and schools are also more protective. When our children go ‘camping’ now, they often sleep in the school hall or the classroom, or sometimes on the Floating Platform at Marina Bay. So that sense of nature, the outdoors and adventure is not quite the same.”

 

Above: Muhammad Haikal Bin Ismadie (right), 15, an OBS participant from Bedok Green Secondary School, explains to PM Lee and Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, about the various rations they eat during the course. The PM visited Pulau Ubin and Coney Island to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Outward Bound Singapore. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

While the boys will eventually do National Service, it is “much better if they are already fit, toughened and confident before they are called up”, he added. “We want all our young people — girls as well as boys, to be rugged and tenacious, adaptable and resourceful.”

To that end, the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth developed the National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan last year. Part of the plan is for OBS to build permanent facilities on Coney Island to take in more students.

Above: Outward Bound Singapore culminates its year-long commemoration of its 50th anniversary with the unveiling of the symbolic OBS ship's sail, witnessed by PM Lee on Wednesday (Nov 29). Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

OBS has already started some activities on the island, PM Lee said, adding that with the expanded facilities, “every schoolgirl and schoolboy will have the opportunity to go through OBS at least once in their school years”.

Recounting his own experience at the school when he was 15 and among one of the first intakes of students in 1967, Mr Lee said that “OBS was ‘rugged’ in every sense of the word”.

The British Army had been organising holiday adventure camps on Pulau Ubin since the late 1950s before the People’s Association took over. Dr Goh was the association’s deputy chairman then.

The British Army continued to run first official OBS courses and two British majors headed the operations. Many of the instructors were non-commissioned officers from the British Army recruited here, and there were other Singaporean volunteers seconded from the civil service and Vigilante Corps.

Above: Participants and guests, including PM Lee and Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, ride on cutter sailboats from Pulau Ubin to Coney Island on Wednesday (Nov 29) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Outward Bound Singapore. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

The facilities and equipment were very basic and the dormitories were “makeshift”. “We had canoes, sailing dinghies, prismatic compasses and topographic maps, some simple rope and obstacle courses, but not much else,” Mr Lee said.

Pulau Ubin was even more rural then, unlike what it is now with better amenities such as paved roads.

“My coursemates and I found OBS a challenging experience, but we also enjoyed ourselves immensely. Our course lasted 17 days, longer than most of the courses OBS now runs... (We) had to get fit, to learn new skills, to encourage one another along on exercises and adventures. We did map reading and orienteering, and often got hopelessly lost. And we went canoeing (to Coney Island) and sailing (to Pulau Seletar), through sun and rain,” Mr Lee said of that period which “had a lasting impact” on the group and him.

“We were pushed to our limits, physical and as well as psychological. We gained self-confidence, became more resilient, and learnt to work with one another as a team. I think that was what Dr Goh intended.”

Noting that these are lessons that are hard to teach in the classroom, he added: “If OBS does its work well, Singapore will always have rugged youth who embody the OBS spirit ‘to serve, to strive, and not to yield’.”

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