Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Directions in Outdoor Education Curriculum

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Directions in Outdoor Education Curriculum

Article excerpt


This paper addresses issues relating to the development of outdoor education school curriculum content and interpretation of the curriculum by teachers. It focuses on the Victorian outdoor education curriculum in order to highlight issues and a potential direction which may be relevant to the development of outdoor education in schools in other states of Australia and overseas. The development of years prep to 10 (P-10) curriculum is discussed separately from the development of senior secondary (VCE) outdoor education because these curriculum documents were developed in different contexts and chronological stages. The intent is to instigate discussion about the nature and purpose of outdoor education curriculum in schools and its implications for the development of the broader outdoor education profession.


The Victorian school curriculum is currently under review and, in the process, outdoor education is poised to move in new directions. The political and philosophical issues that arise during such a process draw attention to questions that have been discussed and debated in outdoor education circles for many years. What do we mean by the term Outdoor education'? Is there a common understanding and vision for this area of the curriculum? To what extent is outdoor education a subject in its own right with distinctive content and processes? Who should be teaching outdoor education in schools and what qualifications and training do such people need?

Some would argue that none of this really matters and that we should just 'get on with it' or 'get out there and do it.' I believe that it does matter and that we need to be clear and purposeful about what it is we are 'out there' doing. The lack of clarity about the purpose and content of school outdoor education, even amongst outdoor educators, serves to inhibit its development both within the education system and in the industrial sector. Outdoor education will continue to remain on the 'fringe' as an extra-curricula offering in schools unless outdoor educators can clearly articulate its educational purposes, content and methods. Furthermore, we need to be able to clarify what it is that makes outdoor education distinctive. That is, what makes it significantly different to other subjects and what educational imperatives exist to compel schools and education institutions to include outdoor education in the curriculum of the 21st century?

Outdoor education in the curriculum

The primary goal of the subject English is to develop students' literacy skills in the English language. The goals of English are achieved through the modes of; reading, writing, speaking and listening (Board of Studies, 1995). Methods for teaching English vary considerably, but specific strategies often include; practice in reading, writing for different audiences and purposes, instruction in grammar and spelling, analysis of literature, analysis of various forms of media, discussion, debate, enacting plays, creating poems, stories and so on. For most subjects in the school curriculum the goals, objectives, content and methods of teaching and learning are clearly articulated and documented in education curricula throughout Australia and other countries. What about Outdoor Education? Can we readily identify its primary goal(s), specific objectives, content and methods?

Outdoor education is a curriculum area which has been understood in different ways by the education community. The range of conceptions of outdoor education is evident in discussion with teachers (including outdoor education teachers), Principals, education administrators and curriculum committees. This diversity is also evident in outdoor education literature (Higgins & Loynes, 1996; Kearney, 1996; McRae, 1990).

Even a cursory examination of definitions of outdoor education reveals the broad scope of the term. One commonly used definition of outdoor education is Ford's (1981, p. …

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