Much has been said and written about sending school children on overseas trips as part of schools’ extra curriculum. I disagree with the practice for two reasons. Parents who do not want their child to go on such trips for whatever reason are faced with resentment, anger and accusation from their child because “why other children can go and I can’t”. It also puts poorer families in a very difficult position. While parents do not want to deprive their child or suffer humiliation, they also do not have the means to keep up with such CCA at school. This perpetuates the division between the haves and have-nots. What happens to the child whose parents cannot afford the $1,500 trip? Imagine how left out the child would feel amongst his classmates who are going on the expensive trip. Consider how in school, the ones going and the ones who cannot afford to go would naturally be divided into two groups. That’s where elitism starts, at our schools. It is my opinion that schools must strive for inclusiveness as much as possible.

Many people have however, sung the praises of such trips for building character, developing leadership skills, emboldening children to step out of their comfort zone and, giving children a chance to see the world. For the latter, I say leave it to the parents to take their child on such trips. If the family can afford Europe, good on them. If the family can afford West Malaysia, kudos to them. What matters is these are times families can spend together and strengthen ties. Rather than pay $1,500 so one child could travel to Australia with his classmates, the money could give the whole family a holiday to Thailand for some great family bonding.

As for the other benefits, there are many activities that could be carried out on home ground that achieve the same. Give students free hand to plan a class excursion, manage budget for such, organise overnight camps in schools, put together a school carnival, go to parliament house to observe parliament in sitting and then debate the ideas put forth at those sittings, participate in national focus groups, volunteer at SEA games, research and critique policies. Allow students to debate the death penalty, question the sedition act, research different types of democracy, find innovative solutions to over crowded public transport, devise solutions to address the “tuition mentality” in Singapore.

These all provide similar opportunities to widen one’s horizon, build character, develop leadership skills, embolden children to step out of their comfort zone, learn to ask valid questions, analyse their society and culture, and “see” the world with different eyes. If children are given the opportunity to observe, research, question, test, challenge and are taught to do so responsibly, they will develop creativity, a critical mind and strong analytical skills on top of leadership and character building. These need not be done on any mountain or in any trench.

Will any principal in our schools take up the challenge to not out source character building and instead challenge the norm and be innovative in our own backyard and really educate Singapore’s youths? Can we forge bravery, open-mindedness and fairness by studying and challenging what is happening in our society instead of being brave on a high mountain?

Perhaps it is easier risk lives at such overseas expedition than risk having a truly educated citizenry that is not afraid to challenge the norm, question the intent and solve the problems. It is not advantageous to the ruling government to have an emboldened populace who have seen the world through educated eyes and would question the actions of an arrogant government.

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