Japanese Students Down-Under: Is Australian Outdoor Education Relevant to Other Cultures?

Article excerpt

Abstract

There is very little evidence about the effects of Western outdoor education programs on non-Western participants. This study involved an experimental group of low-achieving Japanese students who participated in an Australian outdoor education program (N=32) and a control group of similar students who remained at school in Japan (N=40), The 22-day outdoor education program consisted of two week-long wilderness-based expeditions, two English language instruction sessions, and a culturaT and tourism experience. Students completed a multi-dimensional self-concept instrument before and after the program, and about half the students also completed a follow-up. Students also rated the quality of their outdoor education experience. Surprisingly, there were no positive self-concept changes, but there were significant reductions for the Peer and Confidence selfconcept subscales, and lower than expected ratings of course value and group relations. Various programmatic and cultural explanations for the findings are presented.

Introduction

There is considerable evidence to suggest the potential of outdoor education to provide effective personal growth experiences for school students (see Neili & Richards, 1998 for an overview). One of the emergent themes from meta-analytic studies (Cason & Gillis, 1994; Hans, 1997; Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997) and large empirical studies (e.g. Neili, 1999) is that outdoor education program outcomes are surprisingly diverse - between organisations, between groups, and particularly between individuals (Neili, 1998). Despite this, little empirical outdoor education research has explored "self" outcomes in relation to individual difference variables such as gender, academic ability and physical competence. Another potentially important but relatively unexplored area, is the impact of cultural differences. This is of particular concern given the increasingly multicultural nature of Australian society and the growing use of outdoor education in our schooling system. Further, in an age of globalisation and Australia's pursuit of close ties with Asia, an increasingly wide range of Australian outdoor-type experiences are being made available to overseas groups of tourists, students and business personnel. Given these trends, there is a need for further investigation of the responses of non-Western people to Western-type outdoor education experiences.

Cross-cultural psychological research has indicated differences between Western and Asian students on such attributes as locus of control (e.g., Weisz, Rothbaum, & Blackburn, 1984), self-perception (e.g., Cousins, 1989), cooperative behaviour (e.g., Cook & Chi, 1984), personal relationships (Crystal, Kato, Olson, & Watanabe, 1995), and individualism /collectivism (e.g., Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988). Such findings would suggest that outdoor education programs designed to influence similar self attributes of Australian students may not work in the same way for students from Asian cultures.

For instance, the most commonly measured outcome in Australian and American outdoor education research has been self-concept, yet this research has shown little regard to the underlying cultural basis for our conceptions of "self". There is considerable theoretical and empirical literature about the societal differences in notions of self. In particular, this literature focuses on two divergent constructs of the self: independent and interdependent (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). An independent view is characterised by individualism, autonomy and a faith in the inherent separateness of distinct persons. This view of self is commonly associated with people from individualistic societies. An independent view sees the self as interrelated with the surrounding context which exerts a strong influence on an individual's behaviour (emotional, cognitive, and motivational). The self is seen only in relation to the "other"; there is a fundamental connectedness of human beings to each other. …