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Appreciate Teachers’ Sacrifices, Don’t Simply Condemn Them for The Earthquake Deaths: An Educator Hits Back at Critics


LUO YANJIE: As I await news of the missing teachers and students (one of the missing teachers is the husband of a good friend of mine), I got rather pissed with some armchair critics who blamed this incident on the school because these armchair critics deemed the activity unsuitable for upper primary school students.

(READ: Young Lives Wastefully Lost to Careless Leadership: The Mount Kinabalu Tragedy that Could Have been Avoided)

Firstly, was the case of the missing students and teachers a result of negligence, poor planning, or a result of having an activity that is apparently unsuitable for upper primary students? No. It was due to a natural disaster. So why are you blaming the school?

Next, could there have been contingencies? You’re talking about an earthquake that occurred in a place that is nowhere near an earthquake zone. Up till Friday, the probability of an earthquake happening in Kinabalu is probably the same as an asteroid hitting Singapore and geologist are still pretty baffled by how it happened (the magma rising theory hasn’t been verified, and I have my doubts as usually such activity does not trigger such a serious earthquake). If I were to use these people’s flawed logic, that means if I were teaching in a classroom and the classroom got hit by an asteroid, I should be blamed for not having contingencies for my classroom being hit by an asteroid. Heck, might as well have contingencies for a 10 storey-high flood or a volcano popping out in the middle of my school since it has similar probability of happening in SG too, right?

Lastly, Mt Kinabalu has been deemed suitable for upper primary students, by agents and Mt Kinabalu website advised that the children should be at least 10 years old ( People of my size and fitness who did not train for it also made it up with nothing more than a trekking pole, what’s more students who have been very well prepared by so much training. Parents have the option too to not allow their child to go if they are not comfortable with it.

The school has run this programme for a number of years. So if you had issue with them bringing 12 year-olds up, then question that earlier, instead of putting blame on them for something that they can’t prepare for happened. You would have a lot more credibility than this.

Teachers who bring students overseas have a lot to risk, for we are more than their parents there – the kids’ life matters more than ours. I’ve brought students on two overseas trip and each time, we could never really rest and stop worrying until we return the students back to their parent’s hands. Whenever a student fall sick, we were even more worried than anyone. I never knew I could be that worried for someone until last year in Yogyakarta, a student of mine had stomach flu and was in such intense pain that we had to bring him to A&E. I could only be a little less worried when he dozed off after being given the medication and snored. That was the most assuring snore I’ve ever heard in my life. Even when I bring my boys for 1-star and 2-star kayaking course, I still worry every single moment that a freak accident might happen. Despite having risk-management and planning done, we still fear and worry the impossible. So before you claim that teachers are doing it for fame or for their portfolio or to raise the profile of the school, maybe you have encountered some black sheep, but please do not assume that it is the same for many of us and smear us with the same brush. Having so many days of being constantly worried and clearing so much admin work to get the trip to take place is not worth any supposed boost to us. But why do we still do it? The students’ learning – it is often life-changing for them.

My good friend’s husband is a dedicated teacher who have changed many lives (Go to twitter, do a search for “Mr Ghazi”, or and see what his current and ex-students said about him). Please do not step on his and his colleague’s good work and dedication, as well as the sacrifices they made to change lives, while you sit comfortably behind your keyboard because of your ignorance. It hurts the loved ones of the missing students and teachers because it makes them blame themselves for something that is not even within their locus of control.

May they come back safe. And may the rest of us have the the courage to continue to do what matters to the kids.

Updates: Some have claimed based on this link ( that Sabah is indeed in an earthquake prone area. I disagree based on the following –

1) Most of the earthquake are below Ritcher scale of 5.0, which means they are 10 times less powerful than what happened on Friday. Anything below a Ritcher scale of 5.0 is considered rather minor.

2) Most of the earthquakes are at the east coast of Borneo, which is not surprising because it is a lot closer to the tectonic plate boundaries,the traditional hotspots for earthquakes. However, KK is a lot further from these places – how can we use these as justification that KK is earthquake prone?

3) Finally, if you don’t trust my amateur analysis as a geog major, then do a quick check around different academic papers by various geologists- Borneo is hardly placed as an area that is at risk of tectonic hazards base on data from the past century.



Thank you Luo Yanjie for this commentary.
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  1. Adeline Cheo

    June 8, 2015 at 11:36 am

    In view of the Mount K K Earthquake, The teachers are just as shocked by the Earthquake as it was not premeditated, far worse are the young students. My deepest condolences to fellow Singaporeans who are families and friends of the Demised who took that fateful trip.

    I am sure the teachers, as the Guardians of the students were doing their best of their ability to take good care of them during the trip. One should not blame another when such tragedy is an act of God. No one can win over Mother Nature.

  2. Matthew Chen

    June 8, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you Mr Luo for your post. As a fellow Singaporean, I have been following this piece of news with a heavy heart. It is a natural tragedy and as you rightly said, it is something unexpected.

    Of course, when such a disaster strikes, it is easy to comment and criticize the appropriateness of such an activity, especially when it involves the lives of young children. There will always be critics, and I am glad you have chosen to speak up against them.

    Having been in and out of Singapore, I have the privilege of meeting people from all around the world and all walks of life. One thing I have learnt, especially after being a survivor of the recent Nepal earthquake myself, is that children are more mature and able than we think, and they should not be underestimated/put down. Instead, we should constantly remind ourselves how we should continue to nurture them. I have tremendous respect for the school and her teachers to have organised this activity, because as the name “Learning Journey” suggests, it is one that will enable the child to learn invaluable life lessons — especially about themselves — beyond the four walls of the classroom.

    My condolences to the family and friends of the ones who had to undergo this experiences. Words cannot express the anguish I feel, but my family’s prayers are with all of you.

    We must also remember to care for those who have made it safely back, as there must be some form of trauma they will have to deal with. We must take this time to bond and mourn together as a nation, rather than pointing fingers.

  3. Pat

    June 8, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Totally agree with the writer. I’ve brought students out on 1 trip only and I still worry for their health and welfare every single moment. It wasnt even a trip with strenuous activities at all. But why we still worry? It is not because that they arent our kids and we are afraid of their parents blaming us. It is simply because they ARE our kids and we love them equally as their parents do! My deepest condolence to the loss ones and may Mr Ghazi and student Navdeep be safe!

  4. Faith

    June 8, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    I totally agree with Luo Yanjie’s commentary. Yes, the first question most will ask is why the decision of the school to offer such expeditions to young 12 year olds. But everyone should stop at that thought and understand that this tragedy wasn’t a result of negligence, of someone putting the children’s lives at risk for selfish reasons. It was simply a natural disaster and no matter how old you are, there are times when there is just nothing you can do to save yourself. Bad luck as some of us would say.

    Their simply victims of a natural disaster and what we need to focus on is to put our hands out to reach the hearts those families and friends who are deeply affected by this. Help them cope, help them keep alive the precious memories of those they beautiful kids they just lost.

  5. Elaine Seah

    June 8, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Deeply appreciate Luo Yanjie’s commentary.
    As a teacher who has had the experience of bringing pupils on overseas trips, I fully empathise with the stress that teachers like Mr Ghazi have to manage on such trips.

    The focus of the community should now be on supporting the families of those who were lost in this tragedy and also helping those who survived overcome their own trauma of losing their schoolmates and teachers.

    It is not time to cast blame, or to lobby for the end to such learning experiences. MOE takes the safety of students and staff very seriously on such trips, and barring any natural disasters or unforeseen circumstances, all school groups have so far returned home safe and sound.

    Let’s all lift up all who were involved in this tragedy in prayer, that their souls may finfpd eternal peace.

  6. vicky

    June 8, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    please, do respect those souls…….

  7. SK

    June 8, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    While I agreed with you that we should blame the teachers as they themselves are also the victim and they had done their best for the students, I am puzzled by the decision by MOE to allow such trips.

    With or without earthquake, the danger is there. 7 or 8 years passes by without incident do not mean that it is safe. I understand it is important to train the students but safety come first.

  8. Yvonne

    June 8, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    The responsibility of looking after someone else’s child is heavier than own.

  9. Jan

    June 8, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    Strongly disagree with Luo who is simply downplaying the role and responsibilities of MOE and the school management.

    We parent don’t blame the teacher, who themselves are forced by school management.

    Precious young lives lost that can be prevented and all you can say is don’t blame anyone but blame on god and blame on natural disaster!

    These kids should not be there in the first place, so what if 7 times no problem, it is just asking for trouble and it now has hit us.

    MOE please show some leadership and stop this crazy trend of school trying to outdo each other by sending our kids to ever riskier overseas trips. Thats why the other parents are making noise and expecting from you.

  10. Curran

    June 9, 2015 at 12:32 am

    Dear Writer :
    We as Sporeans never blamed anyone for the tragedy..
    My heartfelt condolences to all those who have demised from this tragedy…
    Still hoping for a miracle for those who still are missing…
    As a parent I have always found it difficult to not allow my kids to be on overseas excursions and camping trips… Sometimes my dissapproval made it an unpopular outcome and a rift in our relationship…
    As a parent I don’t expect any teacher to take on the responsibility to bring my kids on overseas trips…
    Safety and their comfort was the utmost importance…
    I do not wish my kids to challenge their safety to strive for exceeding their limits…
    I wish to highlight that I would have dissallowed any of my kids to go to a trip at Mt Kinabalu due to the fact that the place has resulted in so many deaths including an 11year old girl.
    Please learn from this tragedy and stop organising trips to places that have hauntings, natural disasters and avoid any risk no matter how low because we cannot be responsible for another’s tragedy…
    This is not condemnation to anyone but just please hear our hearts out as parents, I like to have a peace of mind and lead a simple life for my children… Until when they reached adulthood and have a sound mind, would they be the one to decide on goin for expeditions that no one can be in control of.

  11. ag

    June 9, 2015 at 5:32 am

    those who are thinking that climbing natural undeveloped mountains has no risk are most likely *naive* or simply *ignoring the dangers*. it should be known that there are n number of bodies that has fallen from high mountains e.g. mount everest & that does not even need an avalanche for it to happen.
    in short any 1 who climb high natural undeveloped mountains are basically ‘asking for it’ by risking their lives.
    it is not a ‘natural’ disaster, it is a deliberate choice to confront the risk and that’s one of the outcome
    & it may not even need an earthquake for accidents to happen. the earthquake is just a rare coincidence
    & worse for primary students who are yet to grasp the complexities of the ‘real’ world

    if there is *no earthquake* and an *accident happen*, would it be as sensational as it is today? *accidents do happen climbing natural undeveloped mountains*, the simplest being a *fall*

    for schools to organize such activities literally means risking the lives of the students and teachers in activities that is deemed dangerous even for seasoned professionals

    a around of google search easily bring to the forefront how dangerous these activities can be resulting in lost of lives & that does not need any earthquake to begin with

    the notion that “People of my size and fitness who did not train for it also made it up with nothing more than a trekking pole,” is an outright naive statement when you consider that they are participating in Via Ferrata climbs at heights well more than 2000-4000 meters up in the mountain and all it takes is a simple accident to *fall to death* from those heights (let alone an earthquake)

    Via Ferrata

    Novices doing via ferrata underrate the potential dangers and overrate their abilities, let alone the fact that even professionals has been involved in accidents with Via Ferrata

  12. The

    June 9, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Anonymous June 8, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    The key word is “moderate”. A magnitude 6 is anything but moderate. It is huge.

  13. James007Ong

    June 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    I do not think any of the unfortunate parents blame the teachers for the tregedy. Only an callous fool does.

  14. Nathan

    June 9, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Dear Editor, let me first express my deepest condolences to the families who lost their loved ones and express my appreciation of the heroes who extended their help who needed it in KK. However, it is important to look at this matter beyond the point “nothing could have been done”. The fact is there was a “trade off” by the school and the trip because it was intended to build their mental strengths so as to be able to achiever higher results. However, as mentioned by Luo, that they had careful planning and risk were assessed does not fit well into the nature of trip that was taken and the consequence.

    A risk assessment is calculating the probability of an accident occurrence AND assessing its severity if it happens. It is known that earthquakes do occur in that region once every 10 years or even more. And it is also known that if someone is cliff climbing and it happens, it going to be fatal. So, if these 2 factors are combined, the risk level is going to be either a medium or high risk. So, the question is; was this their approach to their risk assessment? If it was, why was the need to have a 12-year old kids exposed to medium or high risk? If not, how did they assessed the risk? By having a table top exercise? And for Luo being a teacher to compare with a 12-year old ability is quite unrealistic however her physique is. My point is, the teachers to their understanding and experienced have done their part and kudos to that. However, I feel this is MOE’s responsibility to stipulate the procedure for advanced field trips for all schools to adhere to. Was that in place? A teacher is a teacher, they are indeed compassionate, they are helpful, they are kind however they can never be substituted by parents. There is so much they can do and they will do; which is normal and w should accept it. I don’t think anyone should blame teachers or even school but instead to see things in a broader view. For every accident, there has to be accountability if someone wants to stop it. Without accountability, nothing will stop a second occurrence. Without analyzing the root of the incident and lessons learnt, it is waiting for another to happen. And as some said, it was not negligence and I agree but it was ignorant. And ignorant is not an excuse under the eyes of law. I am not the right person to say who is in ignorant and MOE should investigate it to let the parents know about it. What matters to the kids; is what matters to the parents first which is; the well being and their safety. That stands as the top priority. Unfortunately, even some parents have forgotten it and as mentioned no parents question the integrity of the plan then until now which is too late. May the souls rest in peace and may others learn from this.

  15. Jenny

    June 10, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    I agree to most part. And I can feel the pain of both parents and teachers. However the fact you said the earthquakes that has happened less than 5 it would still have meant earthquakes do happen. As such, it should have been eliminated as one of the place to bring students only 12 by the school. Sorry to disagree on this part cause Richter scale of 5 means earthquake and you can never leave it to chance.

    School and MOE need to hold some responsibility and take it as a point to ensure such areas gets removed from potential school trips. As much as earthquake is a natural disaster, it has had happenings before and no one will be able to predict whether if a minor or major one will happen. Even if it’s a Richter scale of 1 it will cause potential harm to kids at age of 12 and climbing up. A rock of siZe of an orange will also be hurting to kids ie hit the eye of the head and cause comma.

    I feel the pain of all as I’m a mom myself but still there’s some responsibility to be taken by the school and MOE.

    I’m not pushing fault or pointing a finger at anyone but someone need to understand the importance of an issue. I did not major in geography but did take it during A Levels as one of my mains. Earthquake doesn’t happen overnight and in this case this is one of the very very first

  16. Jenny

    June 10, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    Reading about MT Kinabalu incident ~ I know this is not the time to point finger at anyone BUT school / MOE do need to take some responsibility and review all schools excursions initiatives.

    Yes as much as we like to say this is a natural disaster, this isn’t the first time an earthquake happened over the area! (With Google, you don’t need to be a Geography major to know this!) As such, expeditions should perhaps not have been organized for merely 12 years old to the climb at the mountain.

    I read about a teachers article on how the disaster that happen is unpredictable and hence ask critics to hold back their comments ~ I have to but to disagree on his article and comments. Reason being this isn’t the first time MT Kinabalu experienced an earthquake. He further mentioned that the quakes that happened were less than Richter scale of 5 and hence doesn’t warrant any alarm.

    Does he know Richter scale of 1 or less can cause a sense of giddy feeling even in Singapore office area at Raffles. (I bet he doesn’t know but at high levels we feel it and it’s feels you are losing balance) We adults are already affected at such small scale movements ~ What more for a 12 year old who is climbing up the mountain via those dangerous routes?

    Besides a Richter scale of less than 5 ~ total of 16 events over past 20 years is recorded at the mountain ~ as such the place should be avoided by teachers and students alike and disapproved by MOE.

    Yes we learnt an expensive lesson ~ and we have been lucky for the past times we been there. However for the writer whom wrote the article and claimed he studied geography, may I refer him to study and go through the past major events at the same mountain? Meaning from a geographer point of view, the existence of fault line is there and earthquakes can happen anytime! There is no absolute excuse to say nor for a primary school / MOE to take any chance cause a Richter scale of 3 might already cause small rocks to fall and that itself can cause injuries to a 12 year old on either the eyes or the head whilst climbing up.

    So should schools avoid such areas going forward? Definitely! Cause the lives are not yours~ there is no amount of sorry that you can say that shall replace the lives of these little children.

    We did not say the teachers are not doing their job. We do not say that the school is not trying their best. However more proper care should be taken to identify safe areas before trips are being organized.

    And that itself perhaps teachers and schools involved can come out and apologize and acknowledge and ensure this doesn’t happen again; if not otherwise all teachers perhaps can just keep quiet. This is not the best time to rebulk the person scolding on the other end of the computer ~ reason being the person commenting might be a grandmother or aunt or cousin of someone whom have died in the earthquake.

    So who are you all at this juncture to ask people to shut up? When something fundamentally must be wrong ~ and 7 young minor lives have been taken!

    In this incident, it’s a pure luck that the said school / MOE had for the past 10 plus years that nothing has happened. Now we all learnt it the hardest way ~ hope this shall serve as a precious lesson to all parents friends as to do our own research on areas that schools planned and when to be firm and say NO to our kids on excursions.

    If MOE doesn’t take any precautions, we shall then do our own research and make our own informed decisions.

    Utimately the children at such age are minors and belong to no one but ourselves. They rely upon us to protect them. School after all is just an institution, teachers go to school to earn money as a living. So before we sign the paper to indemnify the school against all risks or death, we should consider twice.

    Food for thought.

  17. Ong Meng Choo

    June 11, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Do not point finger at people whenever someone started to voice some opinion different from oneself. These people, like you, have their rights to speak out, as long as their views are not personal attacks or aimed to create hatred. I believe that all people, Singaporean or not, felt the pains when heard about the tragedy. It is definitely a natural disaster that if you are there, you cannot avoid. However that does not mean that we cannot avoid it in the first place. Like some writers rightly pointed out, the activity itself involves risk and uncertainty, even for adult or professional. I do not think that primary school children are ready to be exposed to such risk and uncertainty. There are many many other activities to do if you need to train students in teamwork, leadership, endurance, etc., such e as trekking, working in underdeveloped countries, planning and doing charity, … As educators and parents, even a single loss of a life is a great loss, is a pain for the parents and teachers. We must not blame anyone because everyone involved is doing their best, the MOE, the school, the teachers, the students, the parents, even the general public. But may be, may be only, we may want to go back to the fundamental and ask ourself about the goal of our learning journey. Is it really necessary to do exotic activity to achieve it?

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