Facilitating learning in the outdoors

Last Saturday (4 Feb 2012), I went for a hike around Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR) with Mr Lim, who was bringing his Overseas Service Learning (OSL) mentors (Secondary 4 students) to BTNR. Along with his 7 students were the other 2 OSL teachers, Ms Shahira and Mr Wong.

I can’t say that I’m very familiar with BTNR, but I do believe that I am more familiar with the place than the average Singaporean/kid my age. Back when I was still in Raffles Girls’ School (RGS), I was in the Outdoor Activities Club (ODAC), and we trained in BTNR quite often. We used to hike from BTNR to MacRitchie Reservoir, or sometimes around MacRitchie, carrying our backpacks and making quite a bit of noise, I think. And then last year, while training for Island Peak, we used to carry load and climb up the steep hill of Bukit Timah on Sunday afternoons. Apart from when I’m carrying a load with a mission to fulfill though, I’ve never really explored BTNR, tragically.

But anyway, so I was at BTNR at 8am on a Saturday morning, just like it used to be back in my secondary school days. Was introduced to the teachers and the kids, and then off we set! Their mission for that morning was to get us to the closest point to Bukit Timah Expressway (BTE). It was a pretty independent exercise, with the teachers giving a pretty vague set of instructions and the mentors having to figure it out. Everything from packing their backpack and lunch, to preparing for the exercise (familiarising with BTNR map), to navigating their way around and ensuring the safety of everyone in the group.

I think Outdoor Education (OE) is a very essential skill that should be taught to everyone, whether we are urbanites or not. It should be part of the core curriculum, and not some fancy programme that schools like to show off as though it’s something unique and special. And while doing some searching for NParks, it really seems to be the case. There are increasing numbers of schools (primary mainly) offering Outdoor Education as a special, unique programme, usually as part of this relatively new Programme for Active Learners (PAL).

Some organisations that offer Outdoor Education as a PAL programme would be the Singapore Zoo and CreativeKids Pte Ltd. And from what I see on Primary Schools’ websites (some of which are really hard to navigate!), it seems that OE PAL is usually offered to Primary Ones. Which really gets me, because it’s incredibly hard to teach such skills to P1s (7 year olds)! One-to-one, as in parent to child, is probably still doable, but one-to-30+?? Anyway, I suppose it’s at least a good thing that kids are at least taught to go outdoors (more often). Though sometimes I wonder if they’re taught the right things.

Well anyway, that wasn’t quite the point of this post. What I really wanted to talk about was the style of teaching and learning. In OSL, we did (and still do) a lot of facilitation. Actually, I had lots of that in ODAC as well. After each activity, we would sit down for a debrief and teachers/mentors would facilitate the discussion. So I guess it wasn’t so didactic, for the most part, we were the ones coming up with learning points.

And having just done a camp in the Zoo for an International School, I realise that’s how they learn, mostly. Vastly different from local schools. That’s something we realised, that the way local teachers handle certain situations is quite different from the way international school teachers handle. Kids are mostly the same, playful, they do silly things, they’re in the Zoo and they want to have fun. For e.g., it was bed time, and because it rained, the kids were sleeping indoors. One boy chose to sleep on the steps, which obviously isn’t a very wise choice. I can imagine a local teacher just shouting at the boy, telling him to move down to somewhere level. But his teacher just asked him, “Do you think this is sensible? I am disappointed, I thought you were more sensible than this!” And the boy went off to find a “more sensible” sleeping spot, on his own, without much fuss.

So yeah, I guess perhaps, one change that would be good in our school is the way our teachers teach, and the way our students learn. Facilitation and more questioning, instead of pure obedience and regurgitation.

Having a discussion on where to go next
“Have we reached the point closest to BTE yet?”

Facilitation at the end of the exercise



Beautiful, blue sky day

Spot the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo!













But perhaps, too much questioning also isn’t good. This group of mentors reminded me of me and my fellow mentors back in 2008. We kept second-guessing ourselves and our teachers, wondering if they were kidding or serious, discussing too much and wasting too much time. This I realised in JC, when the guys are usually just “let’s go!” and plan/talk/discuss/consult each other less.


About Jocelyne Sze

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
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