Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mountain Climbing not for 12 year old kids!

 The Trekking at Mount Kinabalu

First and foremost, my deepest condolences to the families of the students and teacher who died from the Sabah Mount Kinabalu Earthquake. I believe those students and teachers who survived the tragedy must have suffered tremendous trauma and I hope that psychiatrists are sent to provide the necessary counseling to help them overcome their traumatic shocks and pain.

This article does not seek to pin point the fault of earthquake death to anyone. It is true that no matter if you are adult or a child, you are subjected to the same risk to death from such sudden act of nature. However, there is really much to fault MOE and the school for approving or allowing 12 year old kids to go on such "Mountain Climbing Expedition".

The common excuse given was that the Primary School has been conducting this expeditions for the past few years without incidents, so we should assume there is nothing wrong in having such expedition for 12 year old kids. This is absolutely wrong argument to deflect responsibility for both MOE and the school. It is like saying you have won a few rounds from Casino and thus, gambling in Casino is absolutely safe!

The other flawed argument is that when we walk on the street, we also face risk of being injured or killed by car or other accidents. The key thing is, you do not have a choice to face such risk in our daily life but we do have the choice whether to allow our young 12 year old kids to face unnecessary risks for such expedition!

Some people say that we do not want to cultivate kiasu kiasi (timidity and cowardice) people so we should continue to support such expedition for 12 year old kids. This is totally wrong perspective. We should not cultivate the mindset of recklessness in the bid to look for gungho (overly tough) training for our kids! We should cultivate the middle path, to take calculated risks and how to deal with risks.

What is risk? What is Risk assessment and management?

We face risk everyday, with or without knowing it. Some risks we can afford or mitigate it with some training or preparation (like teaching kids how to cross roads, take public transport, take escalator...etc). But there are some risks cannot be mitigated due to age. Eg. Driving for 12 year old.

Age may be a multiplier for risk factor. Eg. asking an 80 year old man or 12 year old kid to climb mountain as compared to 20 year old man. Why 12 year old kid is unsuitable for mountain climbing in general?

I have been active in outdoor adventurous activities in my younger days and I have brought a number of groups of students of age 17 to 18 to climb mountains. As trainer, instructor and leader of such expedition is always taxing because you know that you are responsible for more than 10 young lives. Their parents have entrusted you their lives and expect you to deliver them back, safe and stronger.

Ironically, as an adventurer, we have to be extremely paranoid when it comes to planning and putting up safety measures and contingencies. First criteria for a safe and meaningful expedition, is to have only suitable participants for the trip. They must not only be physically and medically fit, but also mentally prepared for all sorts of emergencies. As the leader of the expedition, we have to believe in Murphy's Law, what can go wrong, will go wrong.

Participants for mountain climbing expedition must also be able to take care of themselves as well as others, in times of need. They must be able to conduct first aid, search and rescue mission plus evacuation on their own. They must learn jungle survival if they are lost or stuck in the jungle for whatever reasons. Instructors and leader of the expedition are also human and unfortunate things may also happen to us; be it injury, comma, death or otherwise. The participants are expected to have the ability to save our lives as well!

On top of strenuous physical training, there are a whole list of skills for participants to learn (rope skills, jungle survival, first aid, evacuation drill, map reading, contingency drills etc etc) and those instructors are expected to know their stuffs as well. They are not just some "lobo" nannies but expected to be proficient in the various skills as well.

Thus I was surprised that 12 year old kids were allowed to take part in mountain climbing expedition to Mount Kinabalu! They would have failed the basic fundamental risk assessment of being unsuitable participants. They do not have the necessary physical and mental build to deal with any emergencies, least making evacuation plan.

There are a list of outdoor activities with different risk levels and for 12 year old kids, they should not be involved in high risk or even medium risk outdoor activities. Risk level for outdoor activities depend on quite a number of factors which include, but not limited to, the following:

1) Place of conduct. Is it under controlled environment with easy access to main evacuation routes? Isit deep in the forest, high up the mountain?

2) Terrain. Is the terrain easy or tough? Water? Height? Rocky? Thick forestation? Generally speaking, terrain with water is considered medium to high risk. A 12 year old kid may know how to swim well in a controlled environment like swimming pool but the risk factor will definitely be extremely higher when it comes to sea, with uncontrollable natural forces like under current. Physical strength will be vital for survival if the undercurrent is strong. Thus, age plays a very important role in risk assessment. Similarly, for steep mountain climbing, age will matter a lot because unlike simple flat terrain trekking, going up and down the ridges add risk of falling to death or injury. Most 12 year old kids have not developed their body fully and the risk of falling off the trail gets higher.

It may look deceivingly easy and safe, but it is not.

3) Weather. Adverse weather has different impact on people of different ages. Young kids are more prone to slip and fall during wet weather.

4) Preparedness. Are participants well trained and prepared for the activity? Are the instructors well trained to deal with emergencies and contingencies?

I do not object the idea of cultivating our young ones with outdoor activities. However, we must also select the appropriate activities for such cultivation, in accordance to the participants' physical and mental capabilities and development

Even for my Ventures and Rovers scout troop which consisted of 17 to 18 years old JC students, we start right from the basics instead of jumping right into relatively higher risk mountain climbing expedition. A progressive training process is planned, right from simple camp craft learning, rope skills, map reading, jungle survival, first aid, simple leisure camp, annual training camp, then towards training for mountain expedition...etc. This process may take up 9 months.

For the instructors, we will have to do recce of the site, meaning, we have to conduct our own climb along the route a few weeks before the actual climb. This was done no matter how familiar we were with the mountain because terrain may change drastically over short period of time.

So if anyone tell me these 12 year old kids are suitable to climb Mount Kinabalu because they have gone through some 3 months of physical training, I say you must be either kidding or insane.


This is what Mountain Climbing at Mt Kinabalu is all about

In my view, these 12 year old kids have neither the required physical and mental build, nor the necessary training to go for this mountain climbing expedition. They are only suitable for the low risk camping activity in controlled environment aka, a designated campsite.

If the idea is about "leadership training", there is no necessity to go for a mountain climbing expedition. In fact, mountain climbing does not provide much "leadership training" as compared to a properly conducted training camp in a designated campsite. It is through such training camp, with a higher level of difficulty, that we select the new generation of leaders to lead our scout troop. We do not identify or choose the new leaders through the mountain climbing expedition.

The list of outdoor activities with different degree of risk levels are as follows:

Low Risk

Camping in school compound
Camping at designated campsites on Singapore mainland
Trekking along flat and less dense forested terrain, near to road access 

Intermediate risk

Camping at campsites off Singapore mainland (outlying islands)
Camping on small hills
Trekking along slightly dense forested terrain with uphills and downhills., away from road access.

 Medium Risk

Canoeing at reservoirs
Swimming in lagoons with safety net
Camping overseas
Trekking along dense forested terrain deep in the forest
Mountain climbing of less than 500m in height take less than 2 days 1 night

Medium High Risk

Canoeing along the Coast of small islands take less than half a day 
Swimming in pools with waterfalls or rocky features
Mountain Climbing of less than 1500m not more than 3 days 2 nights

High Risk

Mountain climbing of height above 1500m taking more than 3 days 2 nights
Swimming in open sea with high waves





The dangerous Ferrata (see here about Ferrata routes) climb which the students are said to be climbing. The simplest Ferrata route includes the following:

1. Walk the Torque

This is a shorter and simpler version of the ferrata and can be completed leisurely within 2-3 hours. Length of route is only 430m. You’ll still get a taste of the ferrata and get to try out a few obstacles such as the  2 cable Monkey bridge,  Tyrolean traverse &  Balancing beam (you’ll get to do all these in the low’s peak circuit too!)


The number of days you spent in the wild will also increase your risk exponentially, mainly due to fatigue which will result in loss of focus and concentration power of the mind. Age will also matter. For example, if you put a 12 year old kid to enroll in activity which may be medium risk, the nature of risk may just shoot up to become HIGH RISK instead. Thus it is only wise for planners to choose their activities carefully in accordance to the age of participants.

I do not think 12 year old kids are ready for any activity which is in the category of medium risk or above as we need to take into consideration that due to their age, the risk factor may just increase exponentially. In my view, they are only suitable for intermediate risk and below, which may be considered as medium to medium high risk to them already.

Thus you see that to allow 12 year old kids to go for Mount Kinabalu climb is to put them on extremely high risk outdoor activity. Is it prudent for MOE to approve such activity for Primary school kids?

I seriously wonder how MOE do their risk assessment. Are they totally ignorant of the multiplying effect of risk due to young age for such outdoor activities? Are they totally ignorant of the risk involved in mountain climbing? Height and gravity can kill! Not to mention rocky mountains!  Are MOE so naive to believe fully on commercial information of tour agencies without doing their own due diligence by engaging independent expert knowledge or assessment? Are MOE so silly to believe that 12 year old kids are fit to climb mountain when SAF only enlist males for National Service at 16?

MOE has the greatest responsibility as the gate keeper of safety for any excursions conducted by schools, especially Primary Schools. It owes its responsibility to the parents who entrusted them the lives of their children. It is ironic that as an education ministry,  it doesn't understand the limitation of age and the need of progressive cultivation at all. Allowing students with unsuitable age to engage in high risk mountain climbing activity without any progressive training is totally irresponsible and unacceptable. That is totally insane.

Risk management is to mitigate or reduce risk. Even my 12 year old daughter understands that. But to send 12 year old kids to high risk mountain climbing expedition is not reducing risk but instead, increasing their risks to unacceptable level!

I hope MOE should stop all these nonsense immediately. I would grudgingly agree to let students of 16 years old to engage in intermediate mountain climbing (I started my first mountain climbing at 16 as well) but for any age below that, it is definitely a big no. Even for that age, a progressive training program should be put in place to prepare students for the climb.

For those who keep defending MOE or the school for such insanity, think twice before you do say anything silly. Would you dare to try it out yourself or send your 12 year old kids for Mount Kinablalu climb again? If yes, good luck to you. You will really need that.

Goh Meng Seng

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Goh Meng Seng is the general secretary of the newly formed PPP Singapore.......see here the kind of rubbish comments he replies and how he try to politicise the matter and showing no sensitivity to the families of the decease.....

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153096011584006&set=a.440179929005.241520.542734005&type=1&theater&notif_t=like

Anonymous said...

Cannot make it argument. What you have written here is basically flawed. Based on your understanding without proper research.

Anonymous said...

Very well written! GMS please ignore these white dogs. They are just out here to defend their masters.

It is just common sense that we don't even allow our 12 year old kids to go swimming alone or cycling on the streets. It is really amazing why MOE think that mountain climbing is suitable for 12 year old kids!

Admin said...

I am glad that there are people out there who agree with me:

Eugene Kang

怛白说这几天对于我国小孩在爬山地震中伤亡这起不幸事件的发生,心理上总是感到很沉重,特别是我清楚知道身为父母的,在新加坡这国土上要全心全意把孩子带大和栽培到这个年龄确实不容易。

之前想写这评论但又不忍心写,只因为我了解到带领小学生爬山的教师门己经尽了最大的努力保护学生,而且他们一切国外活动只是听令于校方与教育部,身不留已。况且地震不幸事件发生后,现在生还者教师还要承受灭劫后心理上的阴影和自责,面对来自孩子父母,社会上各阶层遣责的压力!

至于今天为什么我会写?
事实是因为看不惯这几天官方在言论上,不负责任和以地震为天灭理由作为推卸责任的行为。更加看不惯这时刻高层还有空去東运会兴髙采烈拿面子,确没闭去探访慰问灭民!

另外还有看到一群在官方报章网上,护主心切囗又不择言,连禽兽都不如的五毛党畜生,丧心病狂的言论。

对不起我失言了,因为禽兽比这些人还高贵。谨此,我向天下禽兽道歉!

当小学生的父母与社会人士要教育部道歉时,並认为其实这次意外是可以避免旳。

以下五毛党的言论例如:

1)地震是天灭,要怪要道歉去找天要!

2)是你们父母签同意书让自己孩子去的,要怪就怪你们父母。

3)意外时常都会发生,你们的孩子过马路也可能会被车撞,那叫你们孩子以后都别过马路!

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我很了解这次意外是因为地震的关系。

我也並不排除爬山是一项很有挑战性,有益身心健康的运动。但无可否认的是,越俱有挑战性的运动,就意味着风险越高。尽管是防范措施作得再好,尽管体力经过训练,经验有多丰富,並不等于意外可以完全被杜绝。

大人青少年既是如此,更况是发育还未健全,心智不成熟,没有面对意外应对能力的小孩。

当教育部允许校方带领一群小学生去高攀东南亚最高峰,位于马国沙巴的寡妇山。这就等于间接性的把一群儿童带向风险,直接性的把爬山意外的风险大大提高!

事实上当教育部允许校方举办任何国外活动时,不管是任何意外的发生,教育部都应该预料到它必须背负有一定的责任,校方难,辞其究。这起事件发生后,我们看到官方急于在未经调查,也没有像以往一样以专家设立调查委员会,检讨儿童是否适于参加爬山这项俱有高风险活动。就一囗否定並认为没人须为灭难事件负责,以求教育部脱身事外。这是极不负责任的行为!

官方不管在任何形势上,责任上,道德上已经撤底破产!

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有一点我真的感到不解,据报导说这些儿童在爬山前校方已经给予三个月的训练。

明知道小六今年有会考,这次考试关系到它们往后的前途和去那间学校。校方何不善以利用这三个月所花在训练的时间,用在帮助这些小六生复习功课,以应付会考考取好成绩呢?

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爬山发生意外不仅仅是只有地震,任何天气,地理,人为,内在外在因素都有可能构成意外。

天气*****高山上可能随时刮起大风下起大雨再加上山路滑,都有可能造成意外事件。
人为*****小孩力气毕竟不如大人,小孩上山途中可能体力不继。在山上病了,中署,旧病复发。不仅只是小孩,如果是响导是或是教师自己也发生意外,在这鸟不生旦的山上和周边的森林里,小孩们岂不是叫天不应,叫地不灵?

其它因素如在山上被蛇咬,水土不服等等!

教育部可以推说地震在马国沙巴是第一次发生,预测不到也无法避免!

但是在马国,山上下大雨时发生水洪,土崩!这些意外在马国多年来都时常发生,时有所闻。难道教育部从未把这些会发生意外的因素全考虑在内吗?

在意外发生后,我们可以看到救援队的直升机无法在山上降落,救伤车也无法开上
山展开救援。

教育部说过去几年都没发生意外!

那只能表示说过去是我们学生爬山队运气好。但是一旦真有以上的意外发生,教育部根本就无能为力。

把儿童带到一个当意外发生时,就连救援部队都无法及时到达展开救援的鬼地方爬山,就意味着过去一切校方所谓的防范意外发生的措施,一切就等于是零!

notsingaporealternatives said...

There is a time and place for everything. Do you think writing this article at this point in time is okay, considering that those affected parents are still mourning and will be for a long time coming.

This is a decently written article compared to the drivel I have seen on other blogs, but the timing is just not right.

Gary said...

There is nothing wrong with the timing of this note by Goh compared to those notes (obviously by the PAP IB and motivated by their concern for losing more votes) defending such trips for 12 years old! Every letter in the ST forum is for it. I have not come across a single letter that offers the opposing or alternative views. This cannot be coincidental!

Anyway, IMO Goh is knowledgeable, he knows what he is talking about being a scout. I am not sure scouting nowadays is like that any more given the overarching emphasis on National Education and brainwashing by the govt.

I too was shock to learn that 12 years old students have been climbing Kinabalu. I had done it with friends as a young adult and it certainly was NO WALK IN THE PARK as some pro-PAP people would have you believe. Even without the earth quake danger there is the ever present issue of stormy weather above the tree line on Kinabalu. My group was caught in an electrical storm and it was freezing cold up there when the rain soaked through your clothes.

DOE Administrator said...

Hi, can I ask for your permission to reproduce this post on our education portal http://www.domainofexperts.com? Explicit mention shall be made of the fact it first appeared on your site, and we shall cite Goh Meng Seng as the author. Hope to hear from you again :)

Admin said...

Dear DOE,

You are welcome to do so.

Goh Meng Seng

aries_nav said...

I believe many people don't know how high is Mount Kinabalu. It is 13465 feet above sea level !!!(4000m) It is highest mountain in SE Asia, even higher than Taiwan No.1 mountain of Yushan at 12800 feet. It is also higher than all mountains in Indonesia. Indonesia highest mountain is only 12500 feet. The only mountains higher than Kinabalu are the mountains bordered with Myanmar and China , which is 19000 feet. It is complete insane and madness to ask children at 12 years old to climb such a dangerous mountain. I believe MOE thought the mountain is only 4000 feet, it is not !! it is 4000m (13465 feet)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!