THE climb up Mount Kinabalu was tiring and challenging - but also taught them valuable life lessons, said former Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) pupils who have gone on school trips to the famous peak in Sabah.
One of them, Deanna Lim, 13, who went there last year, said the expedition made her step out of her comfort zone.
Deanna, now a first-year Integrated Programme student at Temasek Junior College, said "it teaches you a lot about perseverance and leadership".
Former TKPS pupils like her, as well as their parents, have come forward to defend the school's Mount Kinabalu programme after some netizens criticised the school and the Ministry of Education (MOE) for allowing 12-year-olds to go on a mountain-climbing expedition.
Deanna's brother, Ronan, 12, was one of the 29 pupils who went on the school's Mount Kinabalu expedition this year.
He was one of the 22 children who survived last Friday's earthquake in Sabah, but six pupils, a teacher and a camp instructor did not. One pupil and a teacher remain missing.
Housewife Janice Lim, the mother of Deanna and Ronan, said the school has her full support for the programme. "It teaches the kids the values of teamwork and perseverance," said Mrs Lim, who is in her 40s.
"You learn more from the experience of doing a difficult task than just reading about it."
Thirteen-year-old Pung Feng Kai, who was on the same trip as Deanna last year, said: "The trip taught me that it isn't just about the ending, but also the journey."
The current Raffles Institution student said he became closer to his friends through the trip, and made several new ones too.
"After climbing Mount Kinabalu, it made me realise that I was able to overcome challenges... I never thought I would be able to climb that mountain," he said. "You just have to push on and not give up."
Housewife Maggie Chia, 44, whose daughter made the climb with TKPS last year, said: "It's easy to be a master of hindsight. When things happen, people point fingers. But when things are well, people say the programme is great."
She added: "We know from the pupils that the teachers acted as human shields. How can you criticise a school with so much emphasis on values?"
Parents whose children are not from the school also voiced support for its Mount Kinabalu programme.
Lecturer Dennis Yeo, 47, who has two daughters aged eight and 13, said: "Singapore is small, and schools may want to give students a different learning experience and get them to rough it out, which is something they don't get to do often here."
Dr Yeo, a former vice-principal at a junior college, noted that the Mount Kinabalu trekking route taken by the TKPS pupils was deemed to be suitable for children aged 10 and above by MOE.
"You can never tell when a disaster like this will happen. The group was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time," he added.
This article was first published on June 9, 2015.
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