Singapore student’s rope course death raises questions over volunteer instructors in

SINGAPORE: Unpaid volunteer instructors are not common in the outdoor adventure education sector, operators told CNA after one such instructor was sentenced to jail earlier in January over the death of a 15-year-old.

The 2021 incident saw Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student Jethro Puah Xin Yang fall from a high-element obstacle course at SAFRA Yishun.

Volunteer instructor Muhammad Nurul Hakim Mohamed Din – who was in charge of the course – had failed to check Jethro’s harness. The teenager’s leg loops were not properly secured, and came unbuckled after he fell from the obstacle.

Case details revealed that Nurul Hakim had been volunteering with the outdoor adventure learning company Camelot since 2017, and had completed an instructor course by the company in November 2020.

The incident raised questions on why a volunteer was deployed as an instructor, and whether such staffers are paid professionals. 

In response to CNA’s queries, Camelot said Nurul Hakim was in a “transitionary period” as he was on the cusp of completing his National Service obligations and scheduled to join the company as full-time staff.

During this period, the 23-year-old was not paid due to his “personal circumstances”, the company said, adding it was unable to elaborate further.

“We sent him for the same training (which he completed) and entrusted him with the same responsibilities, as our full-time staff.”


Secretary-general of the Outdoor Learning & Adventure Education Association (OLAE) Delane Lim told CNA that the more commonly used term in the sector is that of a “freelance instructor”, who is professionally paid for their services. 

Providers or operators who use the term “volunteer instructor” are generally from social or charity organisations that offer similar outdoor education services, noted Mr Lim.

He added that these instructors are pro bono and unpaid professionals. 

“Whether (instructors) are paid or unpaid or whichever role given, they are still regarded as a responsible individual, subject to the same level of accountability and they shall provide the same duty of care to any participants in (outdoor adventure education) activities,” he stressed. 

Freelancer Ronald Wee volunteers his services as a high ropes instructor for the National Police Cadet Corps – but receives allowances for his involvement.

Likewise, he was always paid for his services when outsourced by outdoor education companies, said the 35-year-old. 

When deployed for school-related activities, Mr Wee, who has been a freelancer for about 10 years, noted that there are students who often feel scared prior to going on a high-element course. 

“Usually we help them understand why they are fearful. We help them understand the difference between perceived risks and actual risks,” he said.

“We also remind them that it is a ‘challenge by choice’ activity. So, if they still feel that they’re not up for it, we allow them to back (down).”

Noting that his line of work was the “riskiest” part of outdoor adventure camps, Mr Wee said companies as well as the OLAE now share the Camelot incident to warn instructors about safety lapses.

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