Academic journal article New Zealand Physical Educator

Key Competencies and Outdoor Education - a Match?

Academic journal article New Zealand Physical Educator

Key Competencies and Outdoor Education - a Match?

Article excerpt

'What are students saying?'


I am a secondary school teacher at Nelson College. In 2010 I was awarded a New Zealand Science, Mathematics and Technology Teacher Fellowship. This scheme is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand. My project focused on how outdoor education activities can provide opportunities for students to develop key competencies as defined by the New Zealand Curriculum:Thinking skills; Using language symbols and text; Managing self; Relating to others; Participating and contributing (2007, p.12).

Outdoor education within New Zealand is a broad term necessitating that I examine a wide range of outdoor pursuit activities including: Camps, kayaking, canoeing, climbing, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snow craft, bush craft, survival skills, hunting, mountain biking and hiking. This article reports on: What students had to say about their Outdoor Education experiences; and how these experiences link to key competency imperatives in the New Zealand Curriculum. The article draws on interviews with students and my observations and hunches.


Ethnographic qualitative research was conducted in six diverse South Island secondary schools. Formal and informal conversations were held with over 200 students, staff and administrators. Observations were made as an active participant when possible and as a passive by-standerwhen not. Each school was considered to have a strong emphasis on outdoor education. The schools were a mixture of coeducational and single sex schools and were, coincidentally, all high decile schools (6 - 10). Methods used to collect data included individual interviews with students, teachers and administrators. Formal interviews were recorded using a digital voice recorder and transcribed post- interveiw.


New Zealand secondary schools provide significant opportunities to secondary students to experience outdoor education activities. They provide a wide range of outdoor pursuits and activities for students that, for the vast majority of students, could not be provided for to the same extent by their friends and family. A large number of students have very little exposure to the outdoors and of those students' whose parents do take them into the outdoors, it is often limited to one or two types of activities rather than the wide range offered at secondary schools.

General responses to the outdoor education experience: The variety of activities in outdoor education offered by secondary schools is difficult for parents to emulate.

"The walk to the swimming hole it was fun, like walking and going to new places. It's like a once in a life time opportunity"

"I never camped out in the bush before"

"At camp you do new things and at school you do the same things. And at camp you get to do thingsyou haven't done before"

"I got out of my comfort zone and did things I wouldn't do if I was at home"

Students value their outdoor education highly and for large numbers of students, their camp or outdoor education trip is considered the highlight of their year. Camps and outdoor education trips often leave more permanent memories than the other weeks spent at school.

The fact that students experience a very limited number of outdoor education trips during their schooling, adds a novelty factor that contributes to the long lasting impressions they leave in students' memories. I believe the challenge, new experiences, team work and social interactions that students experience on these trips, are factors that are equally important in terms of influencing students high ratings of their outdoor education experiences. Despite large numbers of students taking outdoor education at senior levels, only a very small number of students intend to use outdoor education as a career in the future.

Almost every student talked to, believed that they would continue to participate in outdoor education activities as recreation after leaving school. …

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