Best Practice Service in Outdoor Education

Updated: Oct 17, 2021

If we want students to care about our planet, and thus care for our planet, getting them connected to and immersed in nature seems like an obvious first step, especially in an era where fewer and fewer young people spend time outdoors.

Immersion in Nature

Outdoor education connects students to their environment and, when done well, shows them that they are not separate from nature, above or distant from it, but an integral PART of it. Human beings are a deeply interconnected element of the natural world and when one part of this complex system is diminished or threatened, human life is also impacted. Outdoor education can lead to the understanding that humans must take action to protect that which we rely on for life - ecosystems, biodiversity, habitats.

It is important to give students, along with the immersion and connection with nature, a solid foundation in how their actions can best effect positive and long-lasting change. Having students learn best practices in service before engaging with environmental projects ensures that service action stems from proper and thorough investigation, that it uses the student’s strengths and skills to their best effect, and that the actions taken are sustainable in the long term. In this light, the likelihood for the student’s project to unintentionally cause negative impacts is reduced; so often well-meaning but improperly designed projects can cause more harm than good, as we are all well aware.

Not only does having proper foundations in service ensure alignment between the elements of the project: the student, the environment and the community involved with the project, it makes it more likely that a student will achieve their intended goals, giving them a sense of agency and hope.

Case Study: Juara Turtle Project (JTP)

What might this look like “in real life”? Let’s take a look at the newly formed partnership between Orenda Learning, an impact driven social enterprise that guides young people, educators and community in best practice service and Juara Turtle Project (JTP).

JTP is a community-based marine conservation organisation located on Tioman island, Malaysia. They work with the local community to manage threats to the local sea turtle population, as well as working with schools on educational and awareness programs on a wide range of marine based environmental issues.

The General Manager of JTP, Tom Woodford, was aware that some of these interactions with schools lacked substance and very rarely had a long term benefit for the project or for the students. Service projects undertaken without ensuring students (and teachers) have a foundation in service best practices, can actually have more negative effects than positive ones. For example:

  • Performative action without real change: groups can come in and do an insignificant task, while using it to “tick a box” for a school’s requirements or to share for social approval.