Time to Eddy Out? Considering Outdoor Education in the Midst of the Novel Coronavirus.
Updated: Feb 11
These are interesting times for us as we attempt to provide educational experiences outside the classroom for our students, particularly when we are encountering challenges in our ability to confirm what actually resides outside the classroom. Here in Singapore, cases of the Novel Coronavirus have slowly increased and we are seeing a "day-by-day nature" of updates making it difficult to confidently take students overseas where many of our Outdoor Educational experiences happen.
"For us here in Singapore at our school, we just can't be sure how the local government will react next, what neighboring countries will put in place, nor how significant the virus (the river/risk) will become day-by-day."
This coupled with the World Health Organization's designation of the situation as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern has made it very challenging to discern how the surrounding countries will limit, restrict, or quarantine visitors from China or other countries. If we were send a group of students to a location that has no travel restrictions on Monday how will we bring them back if travel restrictions are put in place on Tuesday?
It would be an understatement to describe the situation as fluid.
Nearly all challenges can be put into perspective with an analogy from Outdoor Education; this is the beauty of transference. Here's one that comes to mind:
As a general rule, when boating in whitewater, taking the time to "eddy out" and look down stream to scout the river before you paddle a large unknown rapid is standard practice. There are even times when the water level can be rising due to rain or hydroelectric dam release upstream adding additional unknowns to decision-making. Unless you can see the next rapid ahead of you from your position, you understand the hazards, and most importantly your skills/resources will allow you to adapt in real-time to manage the hazards you encounter...you eddy out: take a moment, pull off the river, scout it, and make a plan: will you run river left, ferry over to river right, punch through a hole? Sometimes the solution is to portage around the rapid or pull off the river because the water level is just not what you're prepared for and once you enter the rapid it will be too difficult to exit.
"For that reason, without definitive restrictions from your governing agencies it's difficult to say what is the right call for your school but now is a likely a good time to consider what we can learn from Outdoor Education, if it's time for you to eddy out, and what you're choices will be after you've had a good look down stream."
For us here in our school, we just can't be sure how the local government will react next, what neighboring countries will put in place, nor how significant the virus (the river/risk) will become day by day. For this reason we chose to "eddy out". We've cancelled our programs indefinitely for this semester until we can be sure that our skills and resources are sufficient to address the hazards we encounter in the field. In essence, right now "we don't know, so we don't go".
We hope things become more clear, we can understand what hazards are there, we'll know more and we'll feel confident we can handle the unexpected. But until then, we'll be on the riverbank prepping to portage.
It's been a hard decision with complex variables including students losing out on these particularly impactful experiences, teachers needing to reorganize lessons, parent preferences on both sides, significant financial implications, and impacts on our partner provider relationships, but in some ways an easy decision when we consider the implications of getting it wrong. Every region, country, school is different including the presence of the Novel Coronavirus, school resources, local government's ability to manage it effectively. For that reason, without definitive restrictions from your governing agencies it's difficult to say what is the right call for your school but now is a likely a good time to consider what we can learn from Outdoor Education, if it's time for you to eddy out, and what you're choices will be after you've had a good look down stream.
Dr. Scott Schumann, Head of Outdoor and Experiential Education for Cognita Asia Schools
As the Head of Outdoor and Experiential Education for Cognita Asia Schools, Scott Schumann is relentlessly committed to providing all students with Outdoor Education opportunities where they can develop resilience, agency, and a connection to nature. A once Deputy Principal at Stamford American International School Singapore, he still overseas their Field Studies Programs across South East Asia.
As a former Outward Bound instructor, American Alpine Institute mountain guide, researcher, author, and teacher he brings over 20 years of program development and implementation experience.
Scott holds a PhD with an emphasis in Outdoor Education and has published widely in the field of Outdoor Education with particular focus on metacognition, mechanisms of learning, and transference. He particularly enjoys sharing his time in the outdoors with his partner, Joan Schumann, and their two kids, Devi and Rowan.
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