National Outdoor Education Conference 2022 on 22 September 2022
Opening Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law at the National Outdoor Education Conference 2022 on 22 September 2022
07 November 2022
Good morning, everyone.
Thank you very much for the tremendously energetic, bright welcome for me this morning.
This inaugural session will be a game changer. We’re all here because we're invested in outdoor education, and I think more importantly, we know the value of bringing our kids and youths outdoors, and the learning that they can have outdoors. So this is a great opportunity, and I'm very glad to be here.
Good morning, Mr. Tony Tan, Honorary President, Outdoor Learning and Adventure Education Association,
Mr. David Chua, CE of NYC,
Mr. Yeo Li Pheow, Principal and CEO of Republic Polytechnic. Thank you very much for hosting us here at these lovely premises.
Friends, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, outdoor educators, outdoor enthusiasts, everyone here, good morning.
This conference is jointly organised for the first time by NYC, OBS, MOE and OLAE, or Outdoor Learning and Adventure Education Association, and also Republic Polytechnic. As I said earlier, it is a significant occasion bringing together all our key stakeholders to discuss and reinvent outdoor education.
And I can really think of no better time than to do it now, as we begin to re-emerge from the pandemic. Looking at the gains that we've had from the pandemic, one of them has been a search, an interest in the outdoors, fitness, lifestyle, and using the outdoor platform as a way of learning, and I think this is a great opportunity to take advantage of that.
OAE plays a very important role in youth development. It develops youths and working adults holistically, offering benefits and opportunities well beyond the typical classroom and the workplace.
It develops social, emotional competencies and leadership qualities such as confidence, resilience, ruggedness, team spirit, and being able to deal with extraordinary situations, unexpected situations, which of course, being in the outdoors, puts you in the middle of.
It brings together people of diverse backgrounds, different colour, different creed, and people of different social backgrounds. When you are outdoors and faced with a challenge, the makeup and background of the person seldom matter. It becomes a united, cohesive team trying to work together to overcome these natural challenges.
Through close interaction with the environment and places, they also develop a better understanding and connection with nature and our heritage. We have in Singapore, limited natural spaces, but what we have, we have done it very well and we use it very well, so a greater appreciation of that is really welcomed.
Since the launch of the National Outdoor Adventure Education Master Plan in 2016, driven by MOE and OBS, we have strengthened and also enhanced the OAE pathways from primary to secondary school levels for all Singaporean youths. More than 200,000 students participate in OAE programmes and adventure pursuit activities annually.
Every student gets to experience outdoor education, or OE, as part of their school curriculum through Programme for Active Learning (PAL), OE in PE curriculum, and Outdoor Adventure Learning cohort camps in schools.
We also ensure that there are dedicated spaces and facilities where OAE programmes can be conducted for our students, and also done safely. There are currently four MOE Outdoor Adventure Learning Centres to provide Outdoor Adventure Learning camping experiences for students. And we also look forward to the opening of the new OBS at Coney Island in 2024, which is slightly delayed but the last time I saw it, it was well on its way and we're looking forward to new facilities on Coney Island.
By 2026, every Secondary 3 student will benefit from the shared experience of going through a five-day MOE-OBS Challenge programme. Many Secondary 3 kids, including my own daughter, who have not been able to go through this programme, really lamented that this was a highlight in their secondary school career that they've not been able to fulfil. So I'm very glad that we're able to come back to it again and I think it makes a big difference in their learning journey.
OAE providers play an important role in supporting the National Outdoor Adventure Education Master Plan. The Government is committed to developing an Outdoor Adventure Education sector that can safely, coherently, and holistically support our students and our people.
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of Outward Bound Singapore. OBS has grown from strength to strength. Since its founding in 1967, more than 500,000 participants have benefited from an OBS experience. Even after many years, past participants, myself included, fondly recall the memories of going out, navigating their way through Ubin forest, getting lost, kayaking around Singapore, capsizing, doing the jetty jump and the ever popular Flying Fox! I recall that as well, as I had a pretty rough landing into the sandpit.
OBS now has three campuses and works closely with MOE and our private sector partners here across mainland Singapore and its surrounding waters, opening up new avenues for learning about the natural environment that we live in, and I think the biodiversity and rich natural environment around it are something to be appreciated.
COVID-19 has no doubt disrupted the way in which we have done things, and it has hit the OAE sector really hard over the past two years.
The suspension of social interaction, with the changes in group size limits starting from five, and then two, and eight, and two, and then five. Now, thankfully it is unmasked, and it's great to see all of you without a mask.
As a sector, there's been a tremendous loss of experience as we have not been able to run these programmes. Many of our educators and those who are invested in outdoor education, either with schools or even commercially, have had to gravitate to something else. And after that has happened, when we begin to open up again, it's not so easy to gravitate back to the sector. And that's a challenge that we have faced.
It is therefore even more critical, more so than ever if we want to restart the sector, to come back to what we were before, work together and do it even better. All the stakeholders here in this room coming together to bolster employment, look at employment opportunities, professional development, and also how we can make businesses sustainable, so that the OAE sector can grow more resilient and withstand future challenges such as lockdowns, circuit breakers and group size restrictions. And also get our systems and our programmes ready for the young people of tomorrow.
Over the last 10 months, we held very extensive consultations and discussions with stakeholders in the sector on how we can further strengthen the OAE sector. I'm very happy to share that MCCY will be setting up an advisory panel, the OAE Council, to develop, to lead, a structured roadmap for the long-term capability building and capability development of the OAE sector. So, a Council that has broad oversight to look at the people, talent, programmes, safety, and how do we build capacity and ensure that the capacity, once built, remains in the OAE sector.
The OAE Council will be jointly headed by Mr. David Chua, Chief Executive, National Youth Council and also Adjunct Associate Professor Tan Lai Yong, College of Alice & Peter Tan, National University of Singapore.
The Council will comprise representatives from the private sector, government agencies, educational institutions, and also industry experts on safety and standards.
What is important is to ensure that we can continue to command the confidence of our stakeholders in the sector. All the young people who come, and their family and parents, must have a strong and high level of confidence in what we do and how we offer the programmes safely.
As a first step, the Council will focus on developing four areas: Standards of OAE Practice, Professional Development, Safety and Compliance Systems, and the Overall Safety Governance Structure. This will support the development of OAE activities that are safe, where risks and facilities are managed well.
It's always a dynamic process in the sense that you can't always predict the environment that you're in because the outdoor environment is itself intended to be unpredictable. But within the confines, within this framework, this Council will focus on ensuring that safety standards are set up and as far as possible, met in each and every case.
Programmes will be designed based on sound educational systems, principles and pedagogies, and also facilitated by appropriately and well-trained professional trainers.
We will grow a vibrant ecosystem that supports viable careers and businesses, and that's very important as well, to ensure that the talent, once developed, can remain sustainably present in the sector and not be lost should there be another incident that affects the sector or restricts the activities of the sector.
The sector will be more structured and coordinated with a lot more systems and governance in place, and we intend to also ensure that oversight and governance over safety remains a paramount consideration.
This work, as we start today, will of course take several years, but it will also take all of us coming together to build this. It's something that we have a great opportunity to do, and I believe that in years to come when we look back at today's inaugural session, we will see this as a great starting point for the sector. I'm very confident that the Council will be able to chart a clear roadmap towards an OAE sector that thrives and upholds high standards of safety and professionalism.
As I close, let me once again commend the organisers for putting this conference together, to not just bring us all out here, but also to learn, and more importantly, perhaps, to network, to rekindle old acquaintances and to build new friendships. Because after all, the cohesiveness and camaraderie of the different stakeholders of the OAE sector here in this room, is going to make a big difference to how well we can work together, and how well we can deliver our programmes and our governance oversight to this industry.
I hope that you can all continue to share knowledge, have conversations, both formally, as well as informally, on how best this sector can work together, can leverage on each of your individual and collective strength to make this sector greater than the sum of its parts.
I hope that you all can also contribute ideas on areas of collaboration during and beyond this conference. So the friendships, the contacts that you make here, please don't let it end here, carry those conversations outside as well.
Most importantly, we want to ensure that out-of-classroom learning experience continues to thrive, but also provides a safe, enriching environment that continues to build a generation of young people who are active, rugged, healthy, and able to look at themselves in a different way, to build resilience, and to indeed learn outside of the classroom, outside of the iPad or the computers, and to be in an environment that is unpredictable, but really builds character and resilience.
On that note, I want to wish all of you a very fruitful conference ahead. Thank you for having me here, and I look forward to the discussion points that will come out from this conference because all of that will certainly move the needle on how we can develop this structure more holistically. Thank you very much.