Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

The Nature and Scope of Outdoor Education in New Zealand Schools

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

The Nature and Scope of Outdoor Education in New Zealand Schools

Article excerpt


This paper reports on a study conducted in 2002 and 2003 investigating the nature and scope of outdoor education in New Zealand primary and secondary schools. The aim of the study was to gather data on teachers' practices in outdoor education in New Zealand, the beliefs and values that shape those practices, some of the barriers teachers faced teaching in the outdoors and resources that they felt would support them in their teaching. Findings suggest that teachers use the outdoors to support teaching across the whole curriculum but the types of activities undertaken and the reasons for using the outdoors to enhance learning varied across the primary and secondary sectors. The learning outcomes that respondents considered most important were primarily around personal and social development. The study highlights that there is considerable ambiguity in terminology and understanding around teaching and learning in the outdoors that merits further investigation.


Outdoor education has been part of New Zealand education for over 150 years (Lynch, 1998a). The role of outdoor education has shifted over time within the broader context of the changes in the New Zealand education system. Prior to the 1940s outdoor education was primarily recreational. From the 1940s the focus changed to a greater educational intent. Lynch (2000) pointed out that one of the educational shifts that has occurred since the 1970s is that outdoor education has become more instrumental, and the skills and values that are emphasised are associated with employability. It was not until 1999 that outdoor education gained an official place in the curriculum when it became one of the seven key learning areas of the Health and Physical Education (H & PE) curriculum (Ministry of Education, 1999).

Considering how long outdoor education has been part of the New Zealand education scene surprisingly little is known about what outdoor education is conducted in schools and the values and beliefs that underpin teachers' practice. This paper reports on a study investigating the nature and scope of outdoor education in New Zealand. To provide a context for this research, this paper starts with an outline of the curriculum statements that frame outdoor education. This is followed by a discussion on the semantic debate that is occurring in New Zealand around outdoor education. The remainder of the paper details the research process and the findings from the data collected.

Outdoor education in the curriculum

The 1999 curriculum was the culmination of the most comprehensive curriculum reforms in New Zealand's history. These had been instigated over the previous 15 years (Stothart, 2002) and were part of the major economic and social reforms that had been reshaping New Zealand since the mid 1980s. These reforms were philosophically driven by New Right thinking that espoused a mix of minimal Government input and emphasised individualism and personal responsibility where economic imperatives assumed priority in all policy decisions (Cassidy, 1995). New Zealand has a national curriculum document, but the governance and administration of schools has devolved to individual schools and their communities. The Ministry of Education is the national policy and funding body that supports schools and communities to provide education.

Outdoor learning is included in the Science, Social Studies, Environmental Education and Technology curriculum statements but it has an explicit place as a key learning area in the H & PE curriculum. The new H & PE curriculum brought together the subjects of Health Education, Physical Education, and aspects of Home Economics (Culpan, 2000). The overarching aim of the H & PE curriculum reads: "through learning in health and physical education, students will develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and motivation to make informed decisions and to act in ways that contribute to their personal well-being, the well-being of other people, and that of society as a whole" (Ministry of Education, 1999, p. …

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