Updated: Mar 1, 2019
The concept of modern outdoor education is nothing new. It owes its beginnings to separate initiatives. Organized camping was evident in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in Europe, the UK, the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The Scouting movement, established in the UK in 1907 by Robert Baden-Powell, employs non-formal education with an emphasis on practical outdoor activities. The first Outward Bound center at Aberdovey in Wales was established during the Second World War, and the Forest Schools of Denmark are examples of European programs with similar aims and objectives.
Key outdoor education pioneers include Kurt Hahn, a German educator who founded schools such as the Schule Schloss Salem in Germany; the United World Colleges movement, the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (which emphasizes community service, craftsmanship skills, physical skill, and outdoor expeditions), and the Outward Bound movement.
A Brave New World
But now we live in a very different world. We live in a world where human beings are consuming resources at a rate equivalent to 1.7 Earths per year, well beyond what our planet can sustain. We live in a world drowning in plastic with over 9 billion tons of plastic material made, distributed and disposed of in fewer than 70 years. We live in a world where the Earth's biological diversity has declined in size by 60 percent in just over 40 years, a trend that's expected to be further exacerbated by climate change as the 21st Century progresses.
In fact, the man-made biodiversity crisis is now so serious that scientists have identified it as the 6th mass extinction event in Earth's geological history. The last mass extinction was the result of a catastrophic meteorite strike over 65 million years ago - a major event that was primarily responsible for killing off the dinosaurs and other giant mega fauna. And now it's not a meteorite, but sadly, our own species that's causing this latest mass dying out, on a scale unprecedented in the geological record.
"Let's incorporate ecological literacy and action on sustainability in everything we do. Let's fulfill the potential of outdoor education as a vessel for change that transcends the day-to-day lives of young people and kick-starts an unstoppable global revolution in sustainability!"
What is the Future of Outdoor Education?
So with environmental trends like these rapidly gaining momentum and a planet on the brink of ecological ruin, what is the future of outdoor education? How will outdoor education respond to the 21st Century challenges we face? Do we need a new model of outdoor learning that sparks a revolution in educational philosophy, connects children to nature like never before and encourages community action on a scale that's currently unimaginable in order to build a sustainable future?
Well, one thing's for sure. Outdoor education is a perfect vehicle for developing young people into well-informed and responsible global citizens. The sort of citizens who are ecologically literate with well-formed values and a changemaker mindset on global sustainability issues, together with a wide range of dynamic skills (or so-called "soft" skills) that could be used to help young people create social and environmental change for a brighter future.
We Have Just One Shot
The scientific evidence is piling up to the rafters. We have just one shot to right the ship and vitally that narrow window of opportunity is right here, right now. The consequences of carrying on down the road to ecological ruin are truly unthinkable for humanity. The role of outdoor education is more important now than at any other time in the combined history of the modern movement. But unless we take action now, outdoor education itself might be at risk of mass extinction!
We could continue taking children on hikes, kayaking adventures and exhilarating zip-lining tours. And the children we instruct will develop a range of dynamic "soft" skills that will probably help them to become more employable and resilient human beings. But we are far beyond that now and the stakes are high, extremely high. We need outdoor education that's firmly centered on the bigger picture. It is the right vessel to re-orientate the ship and run side-by-side with formal classroom education to create tomorrow's changemakers, today. But time is running out.
So teachers, youth leaders and parents, let's incorporate ecological literacy and action on sustainability in everything we do. Let's fulfill the potential of outdoor education as a vessel for change that transcends the day-to-day lives of children and kick-starts an unstoppable global revolution in sustainability!
"Do we need a new model of outdoor learning that sparks a revolution in educational philosophy, connects children to nature like never before and encourages community action on a scale that's currently unimaginable in order to build a sustainable future?"
Communities United in Ecological Crisis!
We need to flip society on it's head and unite communities on every scale to take the beast by the horns, and tackle the 21st Century challenges we face. We know that people of every race, religion, color and creed are capable of uniting in crises. Think of natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. Think of war-time efforts to innovate advanced technology and build community resilience. Think of global grassroots social and environmental movements for change.
Outdoor education could and should be central to uniting young people for change like never before. So this is a call to action for teachers, youth leaders and parents to make it happen!
Once the momentum builds beyond a certain point, sustainability change will be inevitable and the world's governments, institutions, organizations and corporations will be forced to follow in our wake, whether they like it or not!
Have fun learning wild and we invite you to join the conversation in the comments section below!
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