I was on a geographical Investigation with a group of Sec 4 and Sec 5 students over the weekend when the earthquake happened at Mt K. We were following the news and prayed that the teachers and students were found. Our hearts were broken when it was confirmed that they had perished. As fellow educators who organise overseas trip regularly, we can understand the sacrifice that their families have made each time they send us off to yet another overseas trip.
In my 30 years as a geography teacher, I have brought students to Bali countless time to visit a volcano called Mt Batur. We would enter the volcanoes and visit a village populated with Bali Aga. I have also brough students to Kawah Putih, an extraordinary crater lake inside a volcanic crater about 50 km south of Bandung in Indonesia. I have brough students to many beaches, cliff, tectonic folds and fault, far too many to recount here.
Some keyboard warriors have made very unkind, uninformed comments regarding this tragedy. I would like to address some of these issues as I believe I am a reliable source, having been a geographical educator who brings students out almost every year.
Are all these trips paid holiday for us teachers? Paid yes for some teachers. Some school leaders insist that teachers have to pay for part of the cost. I am blessed to have my overseas trips paid for by my principal each time I bring my students out.
Holiday? No. The preparation start at least 6 months earlier when we have to submit proposal paper to justify our trip. When the trip is approved, the administrative nightmare begins from getting quotation for the trip to the evaluation of the quotes.
Once the trip is approved, we have to do Risk Assessment for the trip. This range from checking and ensuring that the vehicles we used are safe to checking for the weather, and if we are going to earthquake prone place or a volcanic area to check on the USSG website to keep us up to date with the tectonic forces that are currently moving in this region.
Checking the weather daily is a foregone conclusion. For example during my last trip to Malacca, we check the satellite map to help us make informed judgement to see if we should proceed with our activity,
We need to collect consent forms, forms to download money form students Edusave account, forms to be sent to Min of Foreign Affairs, forms to send to the tour agent and forms for insurance.. We give safety briefing to the students and parents. We remind students about the things to look out for when they are oversea before the trip and during the trip.
Once we are on our way, we seldom have a moment of rest. We are constantly counting the numbers of students to ensure that we have the required number. When they are walking we have to ensure that they do not think the roads belong to them. We have to ensure that they are hydrated and so we have to see that they drink enough water daily. If they do not like the local food we will have to ensure that they are still fed. When they are in the hotel at night, we check that they are in their rooms and not be up to any tricks. We are their money changers, nurses, consultants and often their waiters. We can relax only when each and every one of our students come back and we hand them over to their parents.
We seldom get thanked for organizing such trip. Not from the Ministry of Education nor from our school leaders as it is expected of us educators.Parents seldom thank us as they believe that this is our job scope. Not from the students as they believe that this is part of their learning experience.
So why do I continue to do this every year?
Why do I leave my own family behind? Why do I forsake my warm comfortable bed?
Have you heard the thunderous sound of a pounding destructive wave that crushes majestically on to a beach that is at least 500 m wide? Words would not be enough, textbook can only paint pat of the picture, YouTube and pictures cannot replace the experience of just standing there to listen to such destructive waves.
Have you seen a farm that is over 130 ha in Singapore? The largest we have in Singapore is only about 4 to 5 ha.
Where in Singapore can you find a cliff that is over 100 m tall and watch the waves wear away the rock at the bottom of the cliff? Singapore is a very small place that offer very limited scope for us to explore geographically.
Travel a short distance to Johore and you can see exposed folds. Travel up to Kuantan and you can hear deafening waves.
Of course I cannot speak about the leadership programme for Mt K.
But I can speak on behalf of my colleagues who have organised such overseas experiences, be it the Japan Exchange Programme, the Vietnam Globalisation Partnership Programme or the Geographical Investigation to Bali or even the trip to Mt K.
Processes have been put in place to ensure the safety of our students and Singapore teachers being kiasu we would often take extra precaution way beyond the call of duty. It is not surprise that one teacher in Mt K used his body to shield students from huge rocks that slid down the mountain.(Link)
The public may proclaimed him a hero but I am sure he would say it is part of his job, his duty and given the chance he would still go back to Mt K.
Another reason why we teacher organise these trips is because in many neighbourhood schools, not many students can travel over seas to far away places like Europe or USA.
Fortunately, there is the TIE (Trip for International Experiences) fund that is used to subsidize these trips. If students are under financial assistants, we can even use the Opportunity Fund to help them.
were times when our students were so poor that even with these funds, they could not afford to go as they have no money to apply for passports. Often the teachers would chip in to get the passports for them.
So to the keyboard warriors who do not have the complete picture, I would like to suggest that you stop and reflect, gather more information,(may be share this link) and not post such negative comments. The least you can do is not post for doing nothing is still something.
As for us teachers, we will continue to put ourselves on the line and bring our students overseas. My only fear is that parents and society will over react and not support us.
To our families who so willing let us go overseas during the holidays, we know that you will not rest until we are back home. We appreciate the sacrifice you make for sharing our time and life with other people’s children.
If we were to die while doing our job, we know that we have no regrets as we are in the business of changing lives.