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COMMENT: After Sabah quake, should parents allow kids to go on school expeditions?

Flowers dedicated to each victim of the Sabah qauke placed on a table at the tribute site set up at Tanjong Katong Primary School.

Should parents still allow kids to go on overseas excursions? Should schools still arrange such expeditions? Isn’t it safer to just conduct programmes in Singapore?

These were some of the questions asked online after the Sabah earthquake on 5 June claimed eight Singaporeans' lives and left two missing. Most of the victims were from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS).

In response to the safety concerns, TKPS said they had taken students to climb Mount Kinabalu in the past and there had been no problems. The Ministry of Education (MOE) also released an outline detailing the school’s plan and trail, which showed precautions had been taken.

A concerned parent, Loh Kat Teng, whose child had been on the same trip last year, wrote a Facebook post, revealing some background information behind the expedition. Her post was shared by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Loh wrote about the lessons her child learned from the trip. “They learned to be prepared by building up their physical [sic]. They learned to look out for each other and cheered each other on when the going gets tough,” she wrote.

Calling the expedition experience “valuable”, Loh added that though she can’t speak for other parents, the school has her full support for the programme.

As a student just out of polytechnic and heading into my next level of education, I agree with her. I, too, fully support sending students on overseas learning expeditions.

This is why.

When I was in primary school, my parents were not very strict about what I did, and mostly allowed me to make my own decisions. When an opportunity to go on an Overseas Community Involvement Programme (OCIP) came up, I decided to stay home because I was not a risk-taker. I preferred knowing what was going to happen, and being a worrywart, going to Cambodia on a school trip posed an unlimited amount of “Things That May Go Wrong”. My parents supported me. Hey, it was easy for them to, knowing their kid was safe and sound at home.

But, when my friends came back from the trip with endless stories and various anecdotes, I began to regret my decision. That regret turned to resentment against my parents because I thought “Why did they let me make my own decision and not encourage me to go on the trip?”

From the stories told by my friends who went on the trip, I learned I missed out on a lot of things. Building a small school for the students there? I want to do that! Bathing from water in wells? Count me in, please. The photos shared by my friends made me even more jealous and I resolved never to let anything stop me from going on any school-related trip.

I took chances whenever possible. When I was in polytechnic and my school offered an exchange trip to Japan, I jumped at it. Sure, it was scary not knowing anything and I spent a lot of time overthinking the possible things that could happen. But in the end, being able to experience living in a place different from my own made everything worth it. Isn’t that what life is all about?

It is understandable for parents to be cautious, to keep your child safe from harm, but what if that meant that you were keeping them from fun and from valuable life experiences as well?

Whenever a situation arises that forces me to go out of my comfort zone, I think of this quote by T.S. Eliot which helps bolster my confidence, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Ultimately, it's up to any individual, parent or student, to do what they deem fit. But, I really hope parents of kids who may have future trips will consider not just the bad things that could happen, but also think about the good things that your children will experience.