Commentary: Confessions of an OBS Instructor: Some students can’t even peel an orange

Commentary: Confessions of an OBS Instructor: Some students can’t even peel an orange

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On 28 August, an article titled “Confessions of an OBS instructor: Some students can’t even peel an orange” was published by The New Paper (click here). I felt that it was a great article; something that provided a glimpse of an outdoor educator’s perspective of students nowadays. Also, it brought back personal memories being an OBS instructor myself a few years back.

A short reflection of the article kind of made me feel slightly worried about our future generations of students. It is definitely a valid concern that students get a lot of things done for them. Questions such as the following surfaced:

  • How basic should outdoor programmes be for future generations of students?
  • As we strive towards modernisation, how modernised should our lives be?
  • How do we define modernisation then?

Nevertheless, as an entrepreneur, I thought there are some positives that we could get from the article:

1.Outdoor education programmes are getting increasingly relevant

“While kayaking, many of them were shocked that sea water is salty. They probably knew it, but the idea occurred to them only when they were at sea.” This statement suggests that outdoor education programmes have a prominent edge over traditional schooling – experience.

I believe many can agree that it took a lot of imagination during Geography lessons, for example, to visualise the coastal erosion process. But beyond that, exams became a session to regurgitate the many theories learnt in class. Meanwhile,

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Meanwhile, in outdoor education programmes, students get exposed first hand to many new experiences. And as we become more urbanised, students lose out the opportunity of real life experiences.

Another example to state my case will be about the weather. Recently, schools have installed lightning alert systems. While the move steps up the safety of students, it also means that students lose out the opportunity to appreciate and be aware of the weather.

Incidentally last week, I was at a particular campsite by the coast and we were constantly facing thundery showers which affected the camp programmes. However, the experience was priceless as students get to see large cumulonimbus clouds forming and coming from afar and finally hit us. Especially in Singapore which is overcrowded with high-rise buildings, students will only get to see the rain falling instead of appreciating the weather changing before it pours.

Thus, I feel that the current norms of students warrant the need for outdoor education programmes.

2. Simple expectations of outdoor education programmes

Having been in the industry for about 10 years, I observe that there is an increasing demand to provide students with technical programmes such as climbing, abseiling, challenge ropes and kayaking. When I asked teachers the motivation for such demands, the common reason is that students do not normally get the chance to experience such activities.

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While I agree with the reasons, I also observe that such demands place a high degree of technical training on the instructors. Camp vendors also tend to design their programmes around those outdoor technical activities.

On the other hand, the article implicitly suggests that outdoor education programmes could instead provide avenues for students to experience basic activities such as peeling an orange! What was once a norm has become a necessary training for out future generations.

I do observe that there are schools which requested for nature-based activities such as planting. This is an encouraging trend and one that could help reduce the nature-deficiency-disorder in current times.

Back to my point, camp vendors should leverage on such situations by providing technically simpler activities and have less worry on catering to those technically challenging activities. In my MSc thesis, I did write about outdoor educators’ readiness to deliver eco-literacy programmes. My findings suggest that while many supported on the relevance of more eco-based activities, not many feel prepared or equipped to conduct them. Well now, it could be as simple as sharing and teaching how to peel an orange!

(I recently published a Youtube video: Introducing the Simpoh Air to illustrate how easy it is to share about nature to students.)

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So, what are your thoughts on outdoor education programmes for our future generations? Feel free to share.

Just a shoutout, will you be interested if my wife and I organise family friendly nature-based programmes for you? By families for families!

Follow Ahmad Bahktiar:

Outdoor Educator

I'm an outdoor educator and blogger. Outdoors, I teach both technical and experiential courses. Indoors, I blog about the outdoors, environment, health and life! Contact me if you'd like to explore opportunities together, whatever they might be.

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