Speech by Mr S Iswaran, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Education at the 4th Outdoor Education Conference 2010 on Tuesday, 26 Oct 2010, at 9.00am at School of The Arts

Director-General of Education,
Ms Ho Peng

Distinguished speakers and guests

Principals and teachers

Ladies and Gentlemen


I am very pleased to join you this morning at this gathering of educators for the 4th Outdoor Education Conference 2010. I am told that we have with us here today more than 500 educators, representing 120 schools and 31 organisations, from Singapore and six other countries. I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you, especially our friends and colleagues from abroad whose perspectives will add much diversity to the sharing and learning.


The theme for the 4th OE Conference, “The Curious Garden”, is drawn from the eponymous book by Peter Brown. The story of Liam’s quest for a lush, green world, beginning with his efforts to save one struggling garden in his city, is inspirational for it demonstrates how the efforts of one person can make a profound difference.

The Curious Garden is also a salutary lesson on the importance of awakening the curiosity in our young. As children explore the world around them, curiosity grows into interest and, ultimately, evolves into passion. Nurturing a child’s curiosity, then, is the first proverbial step in cultivating a lifelong passion. Leshon Lee, a thirteen year–old student from Chung Cheng High School (Main), exemplifies this. He has been a volunteer nature guide with the National Parks Board since he was nine years old. In his early years, Leshon was exposed to nature and developed an interest in nature photography and bird–watching. He eventually took his interest a step further by becoming a nature guide, presumably to infect others with his enthusiasm for nature.


Programme for Active Learning

The Ministry of Education recognises the importance of engaging students’ sense of curiosity and exposing them to a range of experiences as part of their education, personal development and preparation for life. The Programme for Active Learning (“PAL”) was introduced to Primary One and Two students in 12 schools this year. Through PAL, students participate in modular activities in 2 broad areas – Outdoor Education, and Sports and Games, as well as Performing and Visual Arts – as part of initiatives to rebalance the primary school curriculum. The aim is to enable all our primary students to benefit from a variety of such active, hands–on experiences which will stimulate their thoughts and interests.

Outdoor Education is a key component of PAL and an effective platform to encourage students to be self–directed learners. Outdoor experiences immerse the learner in authentic situations within personal and social contexts, with real consequences to themselves, others and the environment. For example, a student who does not pack/prepare appropriately for a group hiking trip will have to deal with consequences such as being unprepared for inclement weather or holding the group up as a result of inadequate supplies. He will then have to engage in problem–solving and decision–making to deal with these consequences and resolve them. Such authentic situations provide rich platforms for social–emotional learning.

With the growing awareness of the educational value of such experiences, more schools are embracing Outdoor Education for their students. Si Ling Secondary School has established an Outdoor Education Curriculum since 2007 wherein a group of their students undergo weekly outdoor education activities for one semester annually. By all accounts, the programme has reaped significant benefits for the students. They share stories of how particular students have discovered aspects of themselves that have not been evident in the classroom, and how that in turn has boosted their self–esteem and development. Inspired by this, Si Ling Secondary School has incorporated the programme into curriculum time and will extend it to a whole level of students next year.


However, such experiences while necessary are not sufficient on their own. We need the guiding hand and encouraging word of a skilled educator, who can adroitly seize the “teachable moments”, if they are to yield the full developmental benefits for students. Reflection is central to the OE learning process – when a learner is guided by the educator to relate OE experiences to his or her personal life and possible future application.

The increasing importance assigned to educational outcomes such as social–emotional learning, ruggedness, and a sound moral compass, challenges educators because while these attributes may be imparted through traditional teaching methods, they are best imbibed through “experience” and “reflection”. Consequently, as we place greater emphasis on learner–centred teaching, more is required of the educator in the design, conduct and facilitation of the experience. In other words, the educator is now akin to a master craftsman, who, with his knowledge of the learners, environment, activities, and tools available to him, decides how best to engage the learner in order to set the stage for meaningful learning.

Mr Gurmit Singh of Nanyang Junior College, a teacher for nearly 40 years, is living testimony to the profound impact an outdoor educator can have. As the teacher–in–charge of the Outdoor Activities Club, he nurtured a passion for the outdoors amongst many of his students through local camps and overseas expeditions. He has also actively contributed to the OE community, on both local and international platforms, by being a trainer for the Ministry of Education Instructor courses, and a facilitator at international exchange camps organised by the Ministry of Education. I understand that there are quite a number of you in the audience today who have been significantly influenced by Mr Singh in his many roles as teacher, facilitator, mentor, and friend through OE. And, I am sure, that many of you too will go on to have a similar impact on those around you.


This conference, which is now in its fourth year, will contribute to the cause of Outdoor Education on several fronts. Firstly, by exploring how OE can enhance the holistic development of our students as part of the school experience. Secondly, by encouraging the design and delivery of quality OE programmes. Thirdly, by examining the role of research in the delivery of quality OE programmes in school. And, finally, by creating an international network for the sharing of knowledge and best practices in the field. I am confident that the four keynote speeches, over 50 concurrent sessions by local and international experts, and the Outdoor Education Fair will yield much food for thought.

I urge all of you to participate actively in the discourse at this conference, cultivate a strong network of OE practitioners, reflect deeply on the key learning points, and share your experiences widely with fellow educators. Finally, I would like to thank our keynote speakers and presenters, and I wish you an enriching and stimulating time of learning and sharing at the 4th Outdoor Education Conference.

Thank you.