By Mihaela Rusitoru, European Science Foundation
The OTTER team did a first analysis of barriers during the Otter Hub kick-off meeting hosted at the end of May 2022 with about 30 education experts and educators from European countries such as Finland, France, Hungary, Cyprus, Ireland, Spain, but also from other European countries and beyond.
During the kick-off meeting, attendees were kindly invited to express themselves on the main opportunities and barriers on organising education outside the classroom. Among the main barriers identified, we can highlight:
- At the macro-level, the bureaucracy, and the formal paperwork for organising learning activities outside the classroom are time-consuming and challenging. Sometimes, there are also financial issues for transportation and special equipment or pedagogical material, for instance. Another issue could be the lack of information, in the sense that teachers are not always informed and aware about the opportunities and openings for organising creative activities outdoors.
- In most of the European countries, the curriculum seems rigid, leaving limited time for activities to be organised outside the classroom. In Finland, as a good example, outdoor activities are compulsory every day, 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon, except if the temperature are under -15 degrees. But situation is different in other countries where outside activities look like a “waste of curricular time”.
- At teachers’ level, it seems that time restrictions are one of the biggest challenges. Teachers are sometimes overloaded with administrative tasks in complement to teaching activities and consequently, if they want to organise an outdoor activity, they are obliged to use their personal time. Moreover, depending on the age of students, in some countries few teaching hours are allocated to school subjects related to education outside the classroom, so, the opportunities to organise this kind of activities are limited.
- Personal skills of teachers are also very important when organising outdoor activities. First of all, teachers need skills in class organisation and management, keeping in mind that it is different to supervise students outside than inside the classroom. Sometimes, additional teachers are needed to help or escort, when there are students with disabilities, for instance. Teachers’ initial and continuous development also makes a good difference in this regard. Teachers need to be trained in self-assessment, self-confidence, motivation, interactive and innovative pedagogical models.
- But one of the biggest challenges when it comes to education outside the classroom remains the evaluation and assessment. When activities outside the classroom are part of the curriculum, it is easier to evaluate the benefits of them. Unfortunately, the education system is nowadays tributary to the business model, where observable and measurable behaviours are required. Education outside the classroom encompasses some aspects which are not measurable (e.g. social and interpersonal skills or empathy, affective skills or feeling).
Thus, Education Outside the Classroom brings learning benefits to students and teachers given that human beings are interconnected with the nature. On the other hand, there are also some administrative, professional or personal barriers that decelerate the motivation for this kind of activities. Then, to work around these bottlenecks in outdoor education, both teachers and experts or policy-makers should create more innovative ways of educational improvement.
OTTER consortium (2022). OTTER HUB kick-off meeting summary. Available at: https://otter-project.eu/assets/content/news/OTTER-Hub-kick-off-summary.pdf
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi