I'm grateful for all the camps, OBS experience, and outdoor CCA activities that have shaped me over the years

By exhaustedpigeon98

From my personal experiences, high-risk activities can provide an amazing platform for practicing (and learning to exercise) ownership / responsibility, independence, mindfulness, risk-conscious decision-making and courage in the face of discomfort. These activities tend to be physical in nature, and as such, the manifestation of aforementioned qualities in our behaviours becomes more salient and immediate, compared to other pursuits that span over a longer time period.

Let me attempt to contextualise my opinion. When I think of high-risk activities, I imagine kayaking around Pulau Ubin, or rock climbing at dairy farm (as opposed to indoor climbing where most of your risk has already been externalised and borne by the vendor). I also think of expedition climbing (something that has been on my mind for a while), and of course, OBS / the high element activities that appear often in school camps apply as well. These activities are common in that they _expose_ the individual to danger (both real and apparent), and hence establishes a challenge for the individual to overcome. One is often rewarded with a deep sense of satisfaction when they successfully overcome the challenge by practicing any of the aforementioned qualities, and this in turn reinforces good qualities in that person by associating them with reward. I struggle to think of other activities that serve as such an effective "shortcut" for character building.

But there are two important caveats. Firstly, if the individual is already resistant to taking up the challenge, being forced to go through the activity would likely not benefit him/her. This is obvious given that the individual will most likely approach the experience with either of dread or unregulated fear and panic, instead of the intended qualities. A quote comes to mind and tangentially applies here: "you cannot coach desire." Likewise, you can't make a person take up a challenge that he/she is actively running away from. You will only be traumatising them.

The additional panic could even put the individual at danger as he/she might act out in ways that our risk management system cannot protect against. Which brings us to the next point! Risk management IS essential in any of these activities, regardless of whether the risk is being borne by someone else, or by ourselves. Not doing so only amounts to recklessness. And part of risk management is recognising that whatever system we come up with cannot eliminate all the risk, and that we bear this risk by ourselves when we engage in these activities.

As such, (1) no one should ever be forced to go through the activity, and this is due less to it already being pedagogically unsound, but because it borders on right-infringing to force unnecessary risk upon another individual. One might as well drive drunk.

(2) When occasionally, someone gets injured due to high risk activities, the only appropriate response is (i) to verify for posterity and legal/moral purposes that all parties involved have done their due diligence with regards to risk management, especially the vendors that are literally being paid for that purpose, BUT also (ii) to recognise that these individuals took on that risk themselves when they / their parents signed an indemnity form and that for ANYONE (including us) to deny the consequences, no matter how low the risk post-mitigation, amounts to insensitivity and unfamiliarity towards the concept of ownership and responsibility. (Disclaimer: this is not to say that any fatality is not tragic, or one too many, or not worth mourning over. It merely clarifies what it means to be risk-conscious.)

Personally, I'm grateful for all the camps, OBS experience, and outdoor CCA activities that have shaped me over the years, as I was a willing and excited participant in all of them. They have helped me in developing a connection with nature, growing as a person as well as served as excellent platforms for building the confidence to chase my dreams (involving more high-risk activities!)

High-risk activities are here to stay, and a blanket ban is simply not an answer in the long term. As some of the other comments have point out, the real question is considering how we can keep participation in these activities (under a formal school setting) pedagogically sound and provide a supportive environment for learning!

(As a subpoint, I believe it is just as important to emphasise this notion of risk awareness and management (and this doesn't seem to be done a lot)! There is a fine line between taking calculated risk and being reckless, and if an activity appears completely reckless to someone who is not aware of the important facts for rationally determining the actual risk involved, then asking them to participate in the activity is clearly counterproductive!)

Editor's Note: This opinion piece follows the decision by schools to suspend all outdoor activities involving heights after the death of a 15 year old student which occurred during a high-element activity at Safra Yishun. May he RIP.


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