A Sustainable Future Requires a Sustainable Education
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There’s a strange disparity in British classrooms at the moment. Whilst self-identifying outdoor educators are unplugging their pupils by taking their class outside, technical types are doing the exact opposite - immersing themselves and their students in the complete technological gamut.
And yet, in an age when ecological technology is promoting the sustainable management of resources, I don’t think this division should exist – particularly in the classroom. In fact, I think that if we unite outdoor education and technology, a unique educative opportunity will emerge, one that will equip pupils with the technical tools to manage the burgeoning environmental task ahead.
As a holistic (arguably zeitgeisty) movement influenced by environmentalism, outdoor education is a concept I can get behind. It regenerates a child’s relationship with nature; it engages their imagination, puts them in direct contact with authentic experience and teaches them the importance of conservation. What’s not to like? With outdoor play becoming increasingly endangered, I understand why teachers want to liberate their lessons – well away from the wiles of the web.
At the other end of the disciplinary spectrum, digital technology is introducing a number of new tools for learning. From Google Education to iPads, Skype to Schoology , evidence links the use of technology to improvements in learning and exam results. With a variety of rich media resources available, including online video, data analysis tools and interactive software, pupils acquire skills and knowledge using an engaging, effective and current medium.
However, these two schools of thought are very rarely united and I think that, should this important symbiosis occur, teachers and pupils will benefit from an ideal platform for environmental education. Whilst practitioners are still few and far between, eco-innovation is achievable in the classroom. A great example of this unification in action is the work that’s being done at Hartsdown Technology College, a green flag eco school in Margate, Kent. Using iPads to record their findings and multimedia green screen technology to share their work in the classroom, Hartsdown students are studying the environment using the devices that shape their home lives and their consumption of the modern world.
“iPads are a fantastic educational tool, particularly outside the classroom,” says Hartsdown Principle Andy Somers, “Students and teachers can immediately review electronic data in the field - rather than waiting to get back to the classroom to download it to a static computer. It mobilises learning.”
“Of course,” Somers continues, “You need the right technology for the right lesson but in terms of its immediacy, the iPad has revolutionised the way we teach our students.” Ergo, Hartsdown use technology to heighten the outdoor experience, rather than treating it like a threat.
In theory, I think eco-technology education seems like the ideal. In practise though, there are a number of government-placed stumbling blocks in the way – the most significant being draft curriculum reforms and the removal of climate change education for Key Stages 1-3. View this alongside the gaping tech gaps in many a school and classroom and you’re left with very little room for educational innovation.
As an Academy, Hartsdown has the freedom of self-governance – hence its progressive attitude. However, state schools with a lack of resources might need to outsource theirs to outdoor education facilities. Offering an effective half-way house for schools all over the country, certain environmental courses provide students with digital cameras, state-of-the-art digital mapping tools and data analysis software. "The broadening of a child's experience of the environment is our main concern,” says Matt Healey, Head of Education at Kingswood Outdoor Education Centre, “Whether this process is afforded by technological means or by a more traditional creative mechanism is of secondary concern. However, the increased affordances for action, behaviour change and learning can be increasedif mediated by technology."
And that’s the root of it. Whatever your educational persuasion, technology should be viewed as an educational aid – not a hindrance. To me, ‘unplugging’ education seems a little retrogressive, a little intransigent. When faced with an uncertain environmental future, the only thing that we can be absolutely certain of is the enduring forward-march of technology. By exploiting the devices that have come to define a generation and turning them into instruments of pedagogy, there exists the opportunity to fully and sustainably engage students with the plight of the environment, in a way that effects change.
Technology images courtesy of Lexie Flickinger
Outdoor images courtesy of USFWS Mountain-Prairie