Now I come to the various arguments put forth by people on both side of the fences. Of course with the benefits of hindsight, many arm chair critics and as one very famous blogger called them “simisaimologist” are criticising MOE, the school, the Principal and the teachers for sanctioning and organising this trip. Some also argued that this trip should not have been organised so close to the PSLE blah blah blah.
I think these comments are very unfair and unwarranted. I am very sure that whoever came up with the idea of this trip for the graduating class of Pri 6 did not wake up one day from his/her bed and decided “hey, today we going to send some kids to their death!”. No. On the contrary, the school must have thought long and hard before going ahead with it. Why would the teachers want to sacrifice their precious school holidays to take care of so many kids, worrying about their whereabouts and safety 24/7 when they could have spend it with their families and loved ones? And even if the teachers want to go and climb Mt Kinabalu themselves, I am very sure they would much prefer to go with their own kakis then manage a group of children. So no, the school and especially the teachers should not be blamed. If anything, they should be lauded for daring to think big and for being brave enough to allow the children of TKPS to try these challenges. But that is not to say that they should not sit down and carefully evaluate this particular destination in the light of the earthquake and the known challenges as highlighted in my previous post.
Next, some of the arguments being peddled on-line why the school should continue with the climb. As I haves stated in Part 1, the 4 main arguments are (1) Character development i.e. leadership, teamwork, friendship and fitness (2) the organiser and website said it is safe (3) our children need to be acquainted with the outdoor and nature and last but not least (4) there are risks everywhere and our children needs to learn to take risks.
1) Character Development. I am all for this. I seen first hand the benefits my daughter derived when she went through all these programs. She took part in not 1 but 3 CCA in her primary school and developed a great independence streak and organising skills. When she went on to secondary school, she became a student leader and took part in many activities and competition including one very tough Hillary Challenge. And she also climbed a mountain in Taiwan with her school! She went on to head another CCA in her poly years and climbed another mountain in Vietnam. Along the way, she blossoms into an independent, confident and very capable and fit young lady with many friends. But guess what? She did not climb any mountain in her primary school. So what am I saying? We can have all that character development, all the camaraderie, the team building without having primary school kids climb Mt Kinabalu. There are many many options available without having to resort to extreme challenges. For instances, to get similar climbing experiences, there are many lower and more easily accessible mountain in West Malaysia like Gunung Lambak in Johore or Gunung Nuang in KL. For a longer trip, there is Gunung Ledang. All these are much easier to tackle and safe but will still be a tough workout for children.
2) Safe Destination Of course the website for the via Ferrata will stated that it is safe. Of course the organiser will said the climb is safe. After all, which vendor is going to sell a product and say that its product is no good or not safe for use. Even if they are aware of any danger or faults, they will gross over it. And even those who have completed the climb will said it is safe. Of course it is safe if they come back in one piece. But is a place really safe? How do we determine that it is indeed so? We cannot rely on 3rd party especially interested parties’ assurance. We need to do our own due diligence and do our own risk assessment. With the proliferation of YouTube, social media, look at the videos available on-line, read interest group forums, talk to people who have went to the place before and find out everything first before entrusting the children to these people!
3) Outdoor. I agree our children are too glued to the computers, TV nowadays and they need to go out especially to see nature up close. Sometimes when I out at MacRitchie, I hear kids whining about the heat, the mosquitoes bites and walking so “long”. And so I wholeheartedly endorse any program that will bring the children from the classrooms out to nature. But to get to nature, do they have to fly all the way to Sabah? Singapore has many beautiful parks and nature reserves that are very accessible and safe. With a bit of ingenuity, schools can have many challenging programs for the children within these places. Programs such as “Amazing Races”, tele-matches, treasure hunts, all these can help to build teamwork, develop leaders, foster friendships and without having to pay the price of a plane ticket. Will the kids lose out in any ways without going to a faraway place to see the great outdoor? I really doubt it.
4) Risks. I agree everything in life is about risks but there are risks and there are risks. The trick is to know how to recognise them and avoid or mitigate them. And I will cover this in more detail in Part 4.
At the end of the day, while we should not blame the school and the teachers; after all the tragedy was a naturally caused event that none can forsee and not the fault of anyone; there has to be some take away from this tragic event, some lessons learnt and hopefully better awareness of the risks involved in each outdoor activities.