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In pursuit of the outdoors: Outdoor Education seeks to develop skills and qualities that will equip students for life after UWCSEA

Dr James Dalziel, Former Head of East Campus
15 November 2016

In recent decades, there has been a growing movement toward outdoor education for both schools and businesses as we seek to develop character in our young people and cohesion within our teams. Adventure programmes have become popular with schools and are now a regular feature for most students at some point within their school year.

An aim of modern education is to develop the whole child, and many schools including UWCSEA opt for a ‘holistic’ approach to fulfil this goal. For the College, our motives for developing the Outdoor Education programme are not to instil camping, climbing, biking or kayaking skills, as interesting as they may be. The reality is that the vast majority of our young people are unlikely to need these specific abilities and competencies later in life.

What we are aiming at is a much more lofty goal. By creating experiences in the outdoors, we are striving to develop a set of personal skills and qualities that are highly sought after in schools, universities and the modern workplace. Resilience, self-management and collaboration have become the hallmarks of adventure programmes around the world and are in demand now more than ever.

Outdoor experiences can ignite a passion within young people to challenge themselves, they can increase their resilience through trials that demand they maintain, recover or improve their physical or emotional state and support others around them. These can be times of self-discovery, self-expression and satisfaction that are accelerating their personal and social development.

The founder of the UWC movement, Kurt Hahn, believed that, “expeditions can greatly contribute towards building strength of character. Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim tells us that it is necessary for a youth to experience events which ‘reveal the inner worth of the man; the edge of his temper; the fibre of his stuff; the quality of his resistance; the secret truth of his pretenses, not only to himself but others.’”

Outdoor Education seeks to develop skills and qualities that will equip students for life after UWCSEA.

It is within these challenges that we develop our character and personal qualities. The wilderness has been dominated through centuries of struggle, danger and discomfort. Arguably, it has now been conquered, and the difficulties of the past no longer exist. We seem now to miss the opportunities for growth that these challenges provided as we do not have the opportunity in our modern age to struggle within our environment.

Our modern conveniences have made every attempt to mitigate the unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable natural elements. We struggle when our ever-narrowing comfort zones are threatened with being too hot, too cold, too humid or too dry. We see qualities emerge in students when they are in a different environment and faced with different stresses, well outside our typical everyday routines.

The experience in the outdoors is one of space and connectedness to nature. It is unfortunately an experience that is disappearing for most of our young people, which is why UWCSEA holds the Outdoor Education programme as one of the five elements of our learning programme.

There is a special sense that one gets when remote and isolated in the outdoors. It is a sense of scale that provides a contrasting perspective from our daily confinement and constant electronic connections and distractions. The impact on our students is tremendous and evident in the leadership, confidence and character that develop in them through outdoor education.