A different environment: Learning outside of the classroom

Why is Outdoor Education of such great benefit to students? The discussion between some teachers, schools and parents often revolves around how much impact trips have on curriculum time during the academic year. This then begs the question of ‘what exactly is education?’

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In my opinion, there is so much inherent learning for students when they are exposed to new adventures and experiences outside of the regular classroom. A study conducted by the University of Exeter looked at whether school children’s learning about their local environment would influence the way they treat it. They found that not only was this the case, but high quality, out-of-classroom learning also influenced how students behaved and the lifestyle choices they made. It shows the potential for Outdoor Education trips not just to change individual lives, but the lives of whole communities.

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The same could be said for anywhere else in the world, including the UAE! School camps that expose students to some of the fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystems help to foster a sense of wonderment as well as understanding of their environment. A kayaking trip around mangroves not only teaches a fun new physical skill but also about the interaction of species in these extremely productive ecosystems. A snorkeling group might not only get to swim with turtles, but also learn about the impact of plastic bags in the ocean and how they fatally get mistaken for food by the very turtles they enjoy swimming alongside. A visit to the desert dunes or one of the amazing wadi systems can be a great place to conduct a trek or spend the night in tents as a school group, but it also creates the perfect teaching opportunity to talk about the impact humans have with regards to litter or construction. The list could go on with the amount of learning that takes place when education is put into a context that students can observe, touch and interact with.

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There are also some more subtle abilities that children develop when away with their class or year group. For example, there is probably only one time (if any) for some students during the academic year when they are away from their parents for more than just a night or two. Life skills are enhanced on a school camp or trip abroad such as how to manage a shared dormitory room with several others, understanding how to resolve issues when friendships are tested and forge new relationships with new potential friends.

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When student groups are on a school trip to another country, there is another level of learning that takes place. Seeing the Egyptian Pyramids, the Mona Lisa or the Northern Lights for the first time would be an experience etched in anybody’s memory. However, educational trips abroad can also impart the life skills of budgeting, with individuals having a finite amount of spending money to last them while away. There are usually no parents around to top up the wallet once the Euros, Pounds, Rupees or Dollars etc. are spent on a round of ice-creams and an expensive must-have piece of handicraft from the night markets. Individual maturity and independence is developed when students are travelling to any destination, and upon return many parents make remarks at how impressed they are with their child’s emotional growth.

Ask a student in decade’s time to share a memory about the book they studied for a classroom test and about the school trip they took to Nepal for project work. I would imagine that more stories and details will come spilling out about how awesome it was to become part of a team helping to rebuild village communities following a disaster (such as an earthquake), about what it means to be a leader when encouraging others in the group while white water
rafting or the simple skill of bargaining for that extra few Rupees off the cost of a singing bowl.

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So, when a school camp or a trip abroad is questioned for its timing during the academic year, I would like to think that there is learning happening on many levels. I also believe it should not always be limited to teachers directing the learning when opportunities present themselves. With the summer holidays upon us, there will be many families travelling to all parts of the globe and there will be an infinite number of times mum or dad could talk about how every animal has its place in the environment or how important it is to keep our ecosystems heathy….. or even about how to manage the dirhams they might be lucky enough to spend each week.

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Watch this space for more learning taking place in lots of exciting destinations with loads of outdoor adventures!…..


Words + Photos by: Haydon Kerr