Updated: Jan 8, 2019
When I was in state secondary school, we had the option at age 14 to take a BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) course in Outdoor Education. The only problem was this course was lumped within the same course cluster as the main humanities subjects including GCSE Geography, History and Business Studies.
This meant I could only choose two subjects from this set, which I found hugely limited my course options. In addition, there was also an underlying message from teachers, career advisers and parents that a BTEC in Outdoor Education was not valuable, and that only 'academically poor' students should consider this as an option. Now this was nearly 20 years ago in England, but has this view of outdoor education really changed much?
"...if I had the responsibility of advising the next generation on their subject choices and future career paths, I would firmly urge children to listen less to the adults in their lives and more to their own hearts and heads."
Outdoor Education is Not for Smart Kids!
Most students took this subtle but clear message to heart, despite showing plenty of interest and excitement at the prospect of developing their outdoor skills, knowledge and competencies. When I look back now, I feel the way the course choices were set up at my high school unfairly discouraged youngsters to take the BTEC in Outdoor Education. But why?
Was is because the course was a BTEC qualification rather than the academically more accepted GCSE qualification? Was it because the adults guiding us didn't value outdoor education and saw little point in encouraging students to take it? Were they somehow trying to guide us towards the main GCSE subjects like History for 'our own good?'
Well, I'll probably never know exactly why - but one thing's for sure - there was a unmistakable signal from those guiding our subject choices that book-smart students should steer well clear of the BTEC in Outdoor Education.
"At age 14, when many of us make our subject choices for gaining high school qualifications, how many of us do you think really know what we want to do with our lives after graduating [from school]?"
Looking back it's funny just how misguided this view is. There's now a vast body of peer-reviewed research to demonstrate that students who are frequently exposed to outdoor learning tend to achieve better grades, and are better equipped to take their final exams! So this has led many educationists to advocate school-based outdoor learning as a core requirement within our school system.
Career Advice for the Next Generation
Career advice is something I feel the need to address as I've always been academically inclined, and I chose to become a full-time outdoor and experiential educator. I never took the BTEC in the end - I studied GCSE Geography and History, but if I had the responsibility of advising the next generation on their subject choices and future career paths, I would firmly urge children to listen less to the adults in their lives and more to their own hearts and heads.
I'd remove all preconceived ideas and ask them what they'd like to study and not what career path they might want to go down a decade from now. I'd ask questions like "Which classes do you find a pleasure to attend, rather than a chore?" and "Are there any classes you look forward to going to every day without fail?" alongside questions like "What do you consider your main strengths and talents to be?"
A Love of Learning
At age 14, when many of us make our subject choices for gaining high school qualifications, how many of us do you think really know what we want to do with our lives after graduating? I'd say only a very small fraction of children in high school, know with any real certainty, what they want to do with their lives after they leave the education system - like becoming a veterinarian or an engineer perhaps. I certainly had very little idea at that age and I can't remember many of my classmates who did either!
For most it takes a lot longer to find their way after school, and for some it takes many years after graduating to find their true passion and vocation. But the best gift we can give a young person as teachers and educators is a simple love of learning. This is what opens the doors to a bright future and this is the primary outcome we must seek for children in our schools today!
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