Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Outdoor Education in Senior Schooling: Clarifying the Body of Knowledge

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Outdoor Education in Senior Schooling: Clarifying the Body of Knowledge

Article excerpt

Australia has a state-based educational system. In some of these states, outdoor education exists as part of the formal accredited secondary school curriculum. In this paper I analyse the content of these senior secondary school outdoor courses as a means to help delineate and describe the body of knowledge of outdoor education. I suggest outdoor education's body of knowledge reflected in these courses fall into six different content categories or areas. Only two of these areas, outdoor pursuits knowledge and skill, and journey based knowledge and skill are common to all courses reviewed. The remaining four content categories each provide a pathway to extend outdoor education into the conceptually more rigorous realms of senior schooling. I conclude with reflective comment on these four pathways and the future of outdoor education in senior schooling.


Australia has three levels of government: federal, state and local. Both the federal and state governments have influence over what happens in schools. School education in Australia is legislatively the province of state governments, although the federal government does exert influence on state education ministers using a variety of mechanisms including the provision of national curriculum materials, and more recently, by funding compliance incentives (Brady & Kennedy, 2007). What results therefore is a state-based education system where state education authorities initiate and construct school-based curriculum, albeit with the availability of national incentives and resources. Mainstream areas seen to be of national interest have been most targeted by successive federal governments, areas such as science, mathematics, languages, vocational education and citizenship, have all 'enjoyed' federal support and scrutiny. For less mainstream areas, such as outdoor education, there are no national educational policy incentives, national assessment benchmarks, or reporting processes of compliance. As a consequence, outdoor education has developed in schools from local initiatives and state-based lobbying. This results in different conceptions and practices of outdoor education in the different states and territories of Australia.

John Rawlings was a senior teacher in Victoria in the early 1980s. John was the driving force and inspiration behind the writing of the first year 12 outdoor education course to be formally accredited by a state education authority in Australia. The outdoor education course was one of a growing number of group 2 subjects (1) collectively aimed at introducing a more inclusive and diverse range of choices for expanding school enrolments at year 12 during that era (VISE, 1982). The course became for many teachers and students in Victoria, the first time they had considered a formal senior school subject called outdoor education. That it was developed at all was a testament to John's enthusiasm and knowledge of curriculum process, but also reflected the socially inclusive educational ideology of the day (Blackburn, 1984). It's of interest to note how the outdoor education course was described in that early course document.

  The course is not meant to be purely academic. It is designed to
  develop and sustain interest and abilities in an important sector of
  recreation--one which may become a life-long pleasure for the
  individual. (VISE, 1982, p. 2)

During the rest of the 1980s and 1990s outdoor education in Victoria continued to evolve and change to fit the political, social and educational circumstances of those times. In particular, by 1990 the differentiation between group 1 and 2 subjects had been scrapped; the proliferation of subjects under the group 2 banner had become unwieldy. In the ensuing contraction of offerings outdoor education at senior school in Victoria remained as a subject but was re-written with a human development rather than recreation focus.

  Outdoor Education examines ways in which experiences in the outdoor
  or natural environment influences human development . … 
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