Outdoor education can teach students to protect environment

Young volunteers in the Outward Bound Singapore’s first outdoor conservation classroom learning to appreciate the natural environment, on Nov 30, 2015.
Young volunteers in the Outward Bound Singapore’s first outdoor conservation classroom learning to appreciate the natural environment, on Nov 30, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

Having served with Outward Bound Singapore and studied outdoor education, and as a professional independent practitioner now, I have witnessed outdoor education's progress here.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam's Parliamentary Address on an increased emphasis on outdoor education could not have been timelier ("Experts hail more focus on outdoor education"; Feb 1).

However, as we escalate efforts to promote outdoor education, it is also a good opportunity to revisit its greater purpose - to achieve ecological literacy.

In the light of the alarming rate of global warming, we can put more thrust into education for the environment and developing ecologically literate students.

Unlike education in the environment - which refers to using the outdoors as a location - education for the environment enables the knowledge gained about the environment to be translated into pro-environmental actions.

To achieve this, we need to upgrade our outdoor education activities from quick and thrilling adventures to more learning journeys and expedition-based programmes.

These cover longer time ranges, have varying possible outcomes and transfer a degree of responsibility over safety and learning to the students.

Such "broad adventures" allow students to have greater contact with the environment.

This requires them to get to know nature better and be aware of the impact of their actions on the environment.

For example, Outward Bound participants learn environmental concepts such as "Leave No Trace".

We have the necessary infrastructure to promote expedition-based programmes, such as trained and qualified instructors, well-connected parks and waters, and good outdoor standards and practices.

Outdoor education has the advantage of being able to mould positive character in our students, and, if coupled with a strong sense of attachment to the environment, could amplify its returns locally and globally.

Ahmad Bahktiar Othman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Outdoor education can teach students to protect environment'. Print Edition | Subscribe