Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Knowing Our Place: A Perspective on the Contribution of Outdoor Education and Its Relationship with the Outdoor Recreation Industry

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Knowing Our Place: A Perspective on the Contribution of Outdoor Education and Its Relationship with the Outdoor Recreation Industry

Article excerpt

The outdoor education profession and outdoor recreation industry in Australia are considered small fields if one refers to the number of members that make up the state and territory outdoor recreation and education associations. As a result there are regular calls for collaboration with a diverse range of stakeholders to ensure that, as members of the professional outdoor community, we have some influence on the decisions that impact upon our members. Beyond collaboration there have been various attempts to merge outdoor associations to add weight of numbers to the cause of advocating for greater opportunities for safe and sustainable outdoor experiences.

In the late 1990s the possibility of a merger between the Victorian Outdoor Education Association (VOEA) and the Camping Association of Victoria (CAV--now the Australian Camps Association) was suggested, debated and dismissed (Nikolajuk, 1997). At the same time on the national stage the emergence of the Australian Outdoor Education Council (AOEC) and the Outdoor Recreation Council of Australia (ORCA) in the mid-1990s generated similar discussion about the merits of a merged body representing the outdoor community nationally (Martin, 2000; 2001). Unlike the Victorian outcome, the national merger went ahead and a new national body--the Outdoor Council of Australia--was formally launched in 2003 at the 13th National Outdoor Education Conference.

The motivation for a merged national body seeking to represent outdoor education and outdoor recreation has been written about at length and seemed to be based primarily on the value of bringing the weight of numbers of two sectors of the outdoor community to work together and create a synergy rather than duplicate their energies (Martin, 1998).

In 2005, Outdoors WA (which interestingly is the result of a merger between the Camping and Outdoor Education Association, the Graduate Outdoor Pursuits Network and the Adventure Industry Association in Western Australia) chose as their conference theme "The Trail Ahead." I was invited to contribute to the plenary session where I was joined by colleagues from outdoor recreation industry bodies and the camping fraternity. The question put to speakers was, "The trail ahead--together or apart, cottage industry or profession?" To respond to that question I sketched my understanding of outdoor education in the context of a broader outdoor community.

Outdoor education began as the product of outdoor recreation (Martin, 1999). At least many outdoor education programs were the result of teachers who themselves enjoyed outdoor recreation pursuits and saw the value in engaging students in these activities. Out of such beginnings has grown a realisation of the educational potential of outdoor experience and recognition of the distinctive knowledge and skills underpinning these experiences. Whilst outdoor education is largely a social construct (Martin, 1998), it is emerging as a unique offering in our schools to develop specific and distinctive knowledge and skills in students. This is evidenced by the development of outdoor education subjects in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria.

Recognising outdoor education as a distinctive offering within the curriculum narrows the conception of outdoor education from broad labels such as "education 'in,' 'about,' and 'for' the out-of-doors" (Ford, 1986, p. 2) to something that happens in our schools and contributes directly to the wellbeing of young people. This allows us as a profession to define our purpose more clearly.

This also means that being an outdoor educator necessarily implies that one is first an educator because the people we serve within our profession are young people and it is their needs that are paramount.

It is in this role as educators that we contribute to a grand social enterprise, which has three primary responsibilities. Our first responsibility as educators is to develop knowledge and skills relevant to the lives of our students. …

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