Outward Bound Singapore: A Parent’s Perspective

Outward Bound Singapore’s story over the last 50 years

The weekend before last, I was privileged to be invited to Outward Bound Singapore at their Pulau Ubin Campus for a one day. This was part of MOE’s Secondary 3 Adventure Camp for which they had tied up with OBS.

We were one of the 10-12 schools whose Sec 3 children will be attending the camp in term 3 and 4 and were in the pilot programme, hence this open house to showcase to parents what the children will be doing during their five days there.

At this point in time, there will be a minimum of two schools at any point in time. OBS is still upgrading their facilities and when they get to full strength, they should be able to cater to almost 1000 students at any given time.

An example of a trail bike used mainly in cycling expeditions in Mainland Singapore

OBS divides their camps into what they call Blue Belt and Green Belt. Blue belt camps are mostly organised in Pulau Ubin and are more water based. Green belt camps are mostly done in mainland Singapore and may be a mixture of both land and sea camps. There is a possibility that some children may not even make it to Pulau Ubin if they are in a green belt camp and may complete all their expeditions in the mainland itself.

 

The children will be sorted into groups (or watches as they call it) of twelve each. Each group will be made as diverse as possible (in terms of gender, type of course and of course school) and they will learn to work with each other during the course of the five-day camp.

The ferry which dropped us to Pulau Ubin 

After sorting us into our groups and some warm-up exercises, we were led to the ferry which would take us to Pulau Ubin. Before we boarded the ferry, I was told by the instructor in my group that my status was that of an observer because of my diabetes. I did ask if this can change and was told it would be dependent on the resident medical nurse (I was unable to get it changed because they didn’t want to take any risks, so my post is based on what I saw, rather than what I did).

First look at Outward Bound Singapore, Pulau Ubin

The ferry used was a large and comfortable one and it took around 15 minutes to get to Pulau Ubin and the OBS jetty. Once there, we paired up with another group and did all our activities together. After a short talk on OBS and what they do, we were shown the tents the students will be sleeping in. They do not sleep in dormitories at all, and all nights will in tents which can cater to either 12 or 18 pax each. I actually thought the estimates to be overconfident and felt the tents could only take 8 or 12 max respectively.

Types of tents used

After some more games, we headed toward the sea for a short Kayaking stint. We were taught about how to use the kayak (or triayaks in this case) for a short time like using the oars, how to capsize, how to recover etc, followed by a 30-40 stint in the sea. When the children come in, they do get a four- five hour tutorial on how to use the kayaks before they set out on their expositions. Pro tips from the instructors included wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and slathering sunscreen over every inch of exposed skin as well as having a spectacle band which goes over the head for those wearing glasses to protect them and the ban on contact lenses due to hygiene issues.

A key highlight of the sea expedition would be a kayaking expedition in which they will move from one point to another using the sea route. They will take anywhere between five to eight hours to complete the journey. They will eat and rest in the kayak itself and this will teach them to work with others and also depend on others for their well being.

 

An example of the Triayak

Another fun sea activity is a Jetty Jump, which is exactly what it seems. You jump from the jetty into the sea below and is something like a bungee jumping and trust fall exercise. There will be an instructor who will be waiting in the water below and so even if you are a non-swimmer, you are in safe hands! The instructors don’t force you to jump but told us when children come in, all of them end up jumping, even the fearful ones, because they get egged on by their group mates and also fear peer pressure!

 

 

 

Inverse Tower – High Element example

Another activity we did post lunch was a high element climb. The camps have multiple high element structures and so it’s not certain which one our children will do. What we did was called the Inverse Tower. It starts off as fairly easy and then gets harder as you get higher.

 

After this activity, we were taken on a tour of the main operations command centre which is the nerve centre of the operation at Ubin. We also spoke to the duty managers who assured us that there will be a manager 24/7 when camps are ongoing. We also went to the medical centre which is fairly well stocked. There will be a medical nurse stationed 24/7 on three shifts when children camp. They are authorised to dispense simple drugs for fevers, cold, diarrhoea etc. but if there is something serious, the patient will be evacuated to the mainland within 30 minutes and rushed to a hospital in the waiting ambulance at the Punggol Jetty.

 

A map of Pulau Ubin with the highlighted yellow points which are the campsites.

We were also shown the resources and supplies the children will be carrying as a team. Some supplies are personal which the children can eat at any point in time, and some are supplies with which they will cook their dinners.  Also, parents were asked not to send any food with the children as these will be confiscated. This is because there may be children in the group who may be allergic to an ingredient in the food and when this is highlighted, OBS will ensure that the whole group gets food and ingredients without the allergen. Vegetarians will also be taken care of in terms of supplies and food.

 

 

Supplies to be carried by the children. Supplies to the left are personal supplies and to the right are group supplies

Resources to be carried as a group. This includes a basic medical kit, cooking utensils, water bottles, a backpack etc.

The day ended with a sharing session within our groups and then a sharing session by MOE and OBS. They spoke about how outdoor learning is instituted by MOE to provide rich learning experiences outside the classroom and helps students to develop holistically, building up well-rounded individuals who are rugged and resilient.

 

 

Sample Five Day Course

MOE’s Outdoor Learning’s Objectives and Outcomes include being able to deal with challenges positively through self-directed learning and making right choices to influence their circumstances; build friendships with students from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds to achieve team goals in an inclusive manner; and commit to play an active role in the improvement of the community and environment.

 

As parents, we can do the below to help our children, pre and post-course.

Hope this was of use to any concerned parent who dropped in here because of this post. Do comment below and share any questions or comments you may have.

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My Singapore Journey

Happy Birthday, Singapore!

Today Singapore celebrates its 52nd birthday and it’s the first one I celebrate as a Singaporean! It’s quite a surreal feeling when tonight I can recite the pledge and national anthem feeling I belong and not as an outsider looking in as it had been all these years. I’ve been a Singaporean for almost a year now, so this is not new news, but when I started writing this post, it seemed a good time to share this news.

My journey to becoming a Singaporean was a long time in coming. S, as you probably know is a native Singaporean and in the past few years, I had become increasingly aware that Singapore was home and not India. I became a stranger in my land of birth and when I land in Mumbai, the feeling was more of an anticipation of meeting my parents rather than a feeling of coming home. This feeling, however, I started to feel whenever I landed in Changi Airport and seeing the iconic airport control tower would make me feel as if I am now home. That’s when I realised that unconsciously over the years, Singapore had become home! So then I started the process to become a Singaporean not just in the heart, but also legally.

My position as the wife of a Singaporean meant I could have become one more than a decade back, but because I wanted to b sure I decided to wait so long. In the meantime, as they are wont to do, processes changed and the criteria became slightly more stringent.

You apply for citizenship online on the ICA website based on the category you fall under and at the same time book a slot to meet an officer who verifies your documents and also pay the fee. If I remember correctly (since this was a while back), I paid S$100 for this process. There are many people applying for this citizenship at the same time as you and so based on the queue, you get a slot to meet the office anytime from two months to even a year later. I got my slot around six months later and try as much as I could, I could not find an earlier slot.

During the verification process, which was quite fast (less than 30 minutes in my case), they check all documents depending on the category you are applying in. In my case, they not only wanted S’ documentation (including salary slips and a letter from his company confirming he was working there as of a date closest to the appointment date and all his educational transcripts and tax records), they also wanted copies of BB & GG’s birth certificates and passports. We didn’t have copies of the children’s passports, but since this was the same agency which issued them, the officer said they will just look up the records since they should have them. In my case, along with all relevant educational transcripts, they asked for salary and work information and tax statements. They only take photocopies of the documents after verifying the original. Once the officer was satisfied with the documents, he handed us a letter with a case number and told us that it will take around six months for ICA to send us an answer. We could use the case number to see the status of our application in the meantime (which is frankly speaking a waste since it always shows ‘under process’ and until you get the accept/reject letter, it is not changed).

Five months after this appointment, I got the acceptance letter from ICA. To complete all formalities before you renounce your existing citizens, you need to do three things – complete an online course about Singapore’s history. This is a simple course, followed by a short quiz, which can be completed in around 30 minutes. Then you need to go on a Singapore Journey. This Singapore Journey consists of going to multiple places (according to your schedule and what is available then). I chose the National Museum and the Newater Plant. It was a half day tour and educational, but I felt most participants were there because it was simply a requirement they had to tick to complete the process. At the museum, we were divided into groups, by age and in my group were 3-4 gentlemen who, from their accents, seemed to be from a single particular country. After the guide took us through the museum, we had to answer some questions in our groups. The gentlemen in my group I discovered could not speak English and were the least interested in answering the questions which were based on Singapore’s history and extremely easy if you paid slight attention to the guide. I kept wondering why they were not interested in their new country’s history and also how they will survive if they can’t understand or speak English, which is the official language here.

The last part is going to a group discussion meeting at a Community Club in the constituency that you stay in. This was facilitated by an external vendor and also had former new citizens assigned to each group (which was made up of people living near each other). Again interesting discussions, but most people were disinterested and there was a lady in my group (again from the same country mentioned above) who could not speak or understand English and had to have another person translate for her.

After you finish all these items, your attendance is marked in each activity and is passed to ICA. Then a few weeks after all items are checked off, you finally get the coveted letter that you, at this point, have been waiting for from anything between 18 to 24 months telling you that you are a Singapore citizen. They also give you an appointment to go down to ICA to finish the process of your citizenship.

The last thing to do is renounce your original citizenship before your appointment at ICA and for an Indian passport, this means filling up a form, found online and going down to the Indian High Commission’s agent BLS International along with the letter from ICA and after a week or so, going down to the High Commission to get the letter of renunciation.

Next, at your appointment with ICA, you need to scan the application form barcode and you get a queue number. At the first counter, they check documents. Since my application was under spouse of a Singaporean, S had to sign a paper that he is doing this of free will and also pay $80 for the registration and Identity Card (IC) fees.

At the second, your thumbprint from both hands is taken for for the IC. Also, retina scans which were just introduced. Then you sign the form and wait for your number to be called to take the oath of allegiance in front of a Justice of Peace (JP). You fill up your name a page in the application form and then take the oath standing up with your right hand raised and the palm facing outward. To paraphrase the oath, you swear to renounce all rights and privileges from any foreign country and also forsake any loyalty to any foreign country and will be faithful and bear allegiance to the Republic of Singapore and will be a faithful citizen. The JP then gave me a piece of paper which is was temporary IC and told me about the citizenship ceremony which will happen later. As I was leaving her office, the JP welcomed me to Singapore!

Next is to apply for a passport which you can do on level one of the same building. You get a card from them in around a week and have to go down to collect it.

The last step is the Citizenship ceremony which for me took a couple of months more. Here the local MP (it was not in my constituency, but another one in the same Group Representative Constituency (GRC)) will give each new citizen their new pink IC (Singaporeans get a pink identity card and permanent residents (equivalent to green card holders in the US) get a blue identity card) along with their citizenship certificate. Each GRC holds this ceremony every quarter and if you are lucky, you get yours almost immediately and if unlucky, have to wait for a few months to get the IC. Till then you just explain to everyone that you are a new citizen and are waiting for your pink IC!

So that was my Singapore journey. If this has helped anyone who is thinking of becoming a Singaporean or even is in the process, I hope this is something you find useful!

The Greatest Single Bane of Today’s Society – Corruption

CorrSingapore has been named the 8th least corrupt country in the world and tops the Asian rankings. It received a score of 85 out of 100 in the Corruption Perception Index which is issued by Transparency International which measures perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide.

CPI2015_global_ENWorldwide two-thirds of the 168 countries which were tracked actually scored below 50 on a scale from 0 (perceived to be very corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean)
The top spot went to Denmark for the second time in a row with a score of 91. The top ten countries are in the order of rank – Denmark, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway (joint 5th with Netherlands), Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and Germany

So what made Denmark score so well? According to Transperancy International, top performers share key characteristics: high levels of press freedom; access to budget information so the public knows where money comes from and how it is spent; high levels of integrity among people in power; and judiciaries that don’t differentiate between rich and poor, and that are truly independent from other parts of government.

Somalia and North Korea ended the list at the bottom with a score of only 8. The other countries in the bottom ten were Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Angola, Libya, Iraq, Venezuela and Guinea-Bissau. Conflict and war, poor governance, weak public institutions like police and the judiciary, and a lack of independence in the media characterise the lowest ranked countries.

CPI_2015_AsiaPacific_ENSo how do countries closer to home stack up? Hong Kong which is seen as a competitor to Singapore in many aspects was at 18 as was Japan. Singapore’s nearest neighbor and the closest ASEAN country is at 54 with the other ASEAN countries much below Malaysia. Thailand is next at 76, followed by Indonesia at 88, Philippines at 95, Vietnam at 112, Laos at 139, Myanmar at 147 and Cambodia bringing up the rear at 150.

India’s score of 38 made it at number 176 along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bukina Faso, Thailand, Tunisia and Zambia. India’s closest neighbours fare as follows: Sri Lanka and China at 83, Pakistan at 117, Nepal at 130 and Bangladesh at 139.

The results are not that surprising given Singapore’s strong stance on corruption. The country publically names and shames those, especially civil servants and those in high office who are accused of corruption. They also employ legal proceedings against them and sentence them. Hence the high score, which, given how corruption is dealt in the country, could also be higher!

Now, in the other countries in South and Southeast Asia, corruption is a way of life. Corrupt economies do not function as well as non-corrupt ones as the very fact of corruption prevents the natural law of economy from functioning well and freely.
Many people just automatically add the cost of corruption to whatever they need to pay for, especially when dealing with government officials. It is due to this that most people do not have any faith in their public servants, elected or otherwise. Implementation of public services suffers as those need to be paid for, even if they are the basic essentials which every citizen is entitled to. Another casualty is justice as more often than not, justice is either delayed or denied as some of the judiciary may be in the pay of the offenders and let them go scot-free.

Corruption also leads to a loss of growth in that country’s economy as many investors would be reluctant, rightly so, to invest in the country, leading to unemployment or underemployment, lack of infrastructure and development of regions which need them the most. This in turn leads to regression of female empowerment, gender imbalance and female infanticide.

Reading the last two paragraphs make me realise all these are hallmarks of countries which have low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is the most commonly referenced figure which covers the national economy of any country and which is used to determined to estimate how wealthy or poor a country and it’s people. Click here and here to understand GDP and GDP with Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which explains the concepts so much better than I can hope to…

CPI2015_map and country results

CPI2015_map
So where does your country stack up?

Happy Birthday Singapore

Today Singapore celebrates 50 years of being independent. The festivities are all over the country and the Straits Times headlines yesterday was “The Celebrations Begin”!

In 1965, when Singapore was kicked out of the Federation of Malaya, mostly over political and economic differences, many wondered how Singapore would make it alone – a land with almost no natural resources, facing problems of severe unemployment, sanitation and housing, among others.

But Singapore has overcome all this and achieved so much in the last 50 years, it’s zoomed from first world to third world. We in Singapore, take this affluence for granted, sometimes being accused of being arrogant by our neighbours!

Singapore wanted to avoid the racial tensions of it’s neighbours and so racial harmony is something that’s pretty much enshrined in the way of life – so much that we take racial harmony for granted. Everything in Singapore is done in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The national anthem is in Malay though as the Malays were the original inhabitants of the land.

To a lot of people, Singapore is seen as a part of China, and while3 it irritates residents, you can’t blame them, as the government policies seem to me to be a tad pro-China!

Also the Michael Fay caning incident makes a lot of Westerners think Singapore’s laws are draconian, but as a parent with young children, I guess I am happy to live in such a country where I don’t have to worry that my children will return home safe from school. Crime rates are low here and I can walk home late at night, using public transport, which is kind of impossible in many countries, both in the region and beyond!

Ok, enough of talking, I am going to spam some more pictures which I took last week when we saw the National Day Preview.

DSCN3300 DSCN3314 DSCN3341 DSCN3378 DSCN3389

Leaving you with the national anthem of Singapore called Majulah Singapura or Onward Singapore. Singing it with everyone was electrifying!!

Happy Birthday Singapore! May you have many more like this….

Majulah Singapura…..

The Jubilee Weekend started today! To commemorate Singapore’s 50th year of independence which falls on Sunday, we got an extra SG50 holiday today! So today’s post is picture post, dedicated to Singapore – Happy Birthday Singapore…..

The Singapore Flag flypast

The Singapore Flag flypast

RSAF jets making their presence felt

RSAF jets making their presence felt

Arty shot of the RSAF flypast

Arty shot of the RSAF flypast

What's a party without fireworks!

What’s a party without fireworks!

A part of the Singapore skyline

A part of the Singapore skyline

The gun salute tonners making their way to the Merlion before their salute to the nation

The gun salute tonners making their way to the Merlion before their salute to the nation

Fireworks which were the best...

Fireworks which were the best…

Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore) and may you have many more such years!!