Home' Teacher : March 2011 Contents 32 TEACHER MARCH 2011
love for the outdoors and the wish to lose
themselves (sometimes literally) in it.
Unfortunately, the acquisition of bush
skills, especially the assessment and man-
agement of risk, has not accompanied this
view of Australians of themselves. A great
many urban dwellers go bushwalking,
climbing, abseiling, rafting and canoeing
poorly equipped, without proper navigation
and survival skills, with scant knowledge of
weather conditions and of the fickleness of
the weather and without telling anybody of
their plans. A great many also swim, surf or
boat without any real understanding of the
The goal of bush awareness is that adult
Australians should know how to enjoy the
outdoors safely and how to sur vive when
they find themselves at risk. Outdoor living
skills, respect for the environ ment, naviga-
tion skills and survival skills can be taught in
a classroom setting, but they do not become
engrained in people without actual experi-
ence under guidance in the outdoors. Only
outdoor education can provide this learning.
It is irresponsible for an Australian education
system not to ensure that every Australian
entering adulthood has these necessary skills.
The skills listed above can really only be
developed through students' participation
in outdoor education. There are also, how-
ever, outcomes which are not u nique and
which can be achieved through other dis-
ciplines and activities, but which are best
achieved through outdoor education.
Students in the semi-remote wilderness
are confronted by their inner selves. Iso-
lation from every day circu mstances for
an extended period of time leads to self-
reflection, and students begin to make
realistic assessments of their own personal
strengths and weaknesses. The need for
truthfulness, charity, tolerance and modesty
is reinforced by the close proximity over an
extended period with others isolated from
the rest of the world. It is difficult also to
sustain inappropriate sexist or racist atti-
tudes and other personal prejudices when
forced to co-operate closely with others.
Students learn to analyse difficult cir-
cumstances, to appropriately endure hard-
ship without complaint and to press on
when the going is tough. Many realise that
they can do better than they thought they
could. They learn to make improved judge-
ments and to develop coping strategies.
And, of course, nothing can compare with
the wonderment of young people, sitting on
the top of a mountain at dawn and surveying
the landscape before them. Such experiences
make young people aware of the power of
silence and the true beauty of nature.
Teamwork is a major outcome of a great
many aspects of school life, but unlike activ-
ities that are school-based, in the outdoors
the consequences of a lack of teamwork are
immediate and possibly dangerous. Students
learn an understanding of the necessity for
group endurance, where individuals gain
strength from the group, and where the
stronger help the weaker, the competent the
less competent and the stoic the discouraged.
By binding a group together through
successful com mon experience in challeng-
ing circu mstances, outdoor education helps
to create a positive school cultu re. When
teaching staff accompany groups into the
outdoors, students see staff as part of the
team and acknowledge them as people.
An understanding of cultures
Non-Indigenous you ng Australians need to
begin to learn how to think as Aboriginal
peoples and Torres Strait Islanders think, to
feel as they feel and to enter as far as they are
able into their cultures if there is to be true
reconciliation. Of course, it can only be a
beginning, but non-Indigenous Australians
can begin to listen and learn rather than
work on their own assumptions and only
impose and instruct. Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islanders cultures have developed
through centuries of close identification
with the land and the Australian natural
environment, a sense of country and a sto -
ried landscape. This relationship with the
land is complex. Outdoor education makes
it possible for students to be immersed in
and form connections with the environment
and has the potential to help them draw
parallels to a deeper level of understanding
of the landscape evident in Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander cultures.
In addition, the education of young
Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Island-
ers continues to be one of the major prob-
lems, indeed shames, in Australian society.
Undoubtedly part of the problem is a feeling
of alienation on their part from the western
method and style of education. Outdoor
education can offer an alternative way of
learning -- experiential learning -- to comple-
ment school-based learning.
Australia has one of the largest outdoor
classrooms in the world. It is important that
as a nation we recognise the unique student
outcomes of outdoor education.
Tony Hewison had a lifetime of experi-
ence in non-government schools, serving
on government committees and boards,
undertaking pro bono work for numerous
independent schools and other educational
organisations, and a ssisting in the formula-
tion of educ ation policy. He was headm as-
ter of St Michael's Gramm ar School in Mel-
bourne for 20 years whe re he introduced a
comprehensive outdoor education program
in partnership with the Outdoor Education
Group -- a program that continues to this
day. Tony passed away in August 2010.
This article is ba sed on the paper Stude nt
Outcomes: The plac e of outdoor educa-
tion in the national curriculum by Tony
He wison and Peter Martin.
For more on the Outdoor Educ ation
Group, visit w ww.oeg.net. au
Ward, R. (1958). The Australian Legend.
Melbourne: Oxford Unive rsity Press.
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