Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Investigating the History of Outdoor Education in South Australia

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Investigating the History of Outdoor Education in South Australia

Article excerpt


This paper examines the implementation of Outdoor Education in South Australian schools and investigates the influences on this curriculum area. The data obtained describe influences on the nature of programmes as including Outward Bound and other training organisations. The major influence on the scope of Outdoor Education appears to have been commonwealth and state funding, as suggested by the increase in participation by state schools in the late 1970's and early 1980's. This investigation forms the basis for further study of the nature and scope of Outdoor Education in South Australian Schools.


As Outdoor Education attempts to define the role it has within the future of Australian Society it seems pertinent to reflect on our past. How did 'Outdoor Education' come to be? What were the influences on the establishment of this curriculum area within schools? Knowing our history as a curriculum area might assist us in cementing our identity as a profession, as well as learning from past successes and failures. This paper reports on an investigation focussed on the development of the curriculum area of Outdoor Education in South Australia.

Defining the Boundaries for Investigation

Outdoor Education is thought to have the potential for personal growth, group skills development, development of environmental sensitivity and social change (Staley, 1983; Hogan, 1984; Abbott, 1987; Mortlock, 1987; McRae, 1990; S.S.A.B.S.A, 1991; Gray & Perusco, 1993; Hopkins & Putnam, 1993; Schleien, McAvoy, Lais & Rynders, 1993; Coughlan, 1995). Despite the support for this curriculum area, one of the difficulties faced when investigating the history of Outdoor Education in South Australia was establishing the boundaries of what was and what was not Outdoor Education. As Kearney (1995) states:

I have witnessed and been involved in such debates so often that I have realised that the term 'Outdoor Education' is itself interpreted more broadly than the word 'Education' (p.7)

In South Australia, debate about the nature of 'Outdoor Education' reflected a broader global discussions. According to the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia (S.S.A.B.S.A, 1991):

Two divergent views have emerged. In one view, Outdoor Education is a methodology that may permeate many subjects. The second view is that Outdoor Education can be treated as a subject in its own right, with a definite body of knowledge, as well as a methodology that can be shared with other subjects (p.7)

For the purposes of this investigation the criteria for activities that constituted 'Outdoor Education' included curriculum based and extracurricular camps, expeditions and outdoor activities used in an educational context such as bushwalking, kayaking and sailing.

Method of Investigation

The history of Outdoor Education in South Australian secondary schools is not well documented. Initial searches university libraries and department records were made revealing a number of documents that provided scant information only. Following this attention was turned to current and past Outdoor Education lecturers, teachers and instructors to create a hermeneutic or interpretive history. A list of possible participants for interview was drawn with a focus on those that remained in the profession for some years. Participants were asked to participate in an interview where notes might be taken as they told their version of the history of Outdoor Education in South Australia. Participants' were then asked to suggest others that might offer further insight into this investigation.

Participants were interviewed at a location convenient to them and hand written notes were taken at the time of interview. Follow up phone calls were made to most participants to seek further clarification on comments made. Investigation participants were asked to describe their perspective of Outdoor Education in this state and their views on the major influences on the establishment or restriction of Outdoor Education in the school curriculum. …

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