Outdoor education which started in modern society

Outdoor education started to be recognized as an area of education from around 1960 in Japan. The situation behind this start was rapidly advancing modernization and industrialization in Japan after the war, and especially in urban areas, people’s lives became detached from the natural environment.

Therefore, various educational institutions, including schools, started to introduce experience in the natural environment as an educational activity. Seaside schools and camping schools are concrete examples.

Surely, people say that it feels fresh or pleasant when they come into contact with nature such as the sea and mountains. However, can we say that therefore, outdoor education is good or effective? Of course, this is not sufficient as an account of outdoor education.

Delving into what nature is to human beings in the first place will lead to the understanding of the significance and value of outdoor education, and I think it has the possibility to make the education more effective.

First of all, why did modern people introduce a lifestyle that is detached from nature, which, after all, feels so pleasant?

In short, artificial technology and systems improved the convenience and efficiency of lives. For example, rather than making all kinds of efforts to collect fallen leaves and start a fire, it is much easier and convenient to use a kitchen stove by pushing the ignition button.

People pursued such convenience and efficiency endlessly, and as a result, technology has also continuously developed.

In modern times, via the internet, anyone can easily access information from various people they have never met or whose faces they do not even know. Individuals can also use AI to entrust judgements.

In other words, without thinking for ourselves, being creative, or accumulating experiences and knowledge for our living, by making use of various tools or easily accessible information, we can live our lives much more easily and more efficiently. Such developments seem good for us.

However, is that really true? For example, suppose that person A and person B lived in such an efficient modern civilization. What is the difference between these two? In other words, who is A and who is B? Furthermore, what does it mean by A and B living their lives?

We seem to be making use of tools (technology) well, but in fact, aren’t we being homogenized so that the tools are easy to operate? In a sense, aren’t tools making use of us? As a result, by pursuing efficiency, perhaps everybody is becoming similar, or a slave to technology.

In the first place, a person is valuable just by his/her existence. That is also true with persons A and B. On the other hand, A and B themselves should foster, nurture, and give meaning to the value of personality. Wouldn’t that lead to the individual strength of living, a person’s original strength, and happiness as well?

Isn’t modern civilization spoiling such way of life?

However, why do city people who live in such an environment think that nature feels good?

The fundamental reason is the biological fact that the human body belongs to nature. Another major factor is that because modern people have various reasons to live in this complicated society, we cannot generalize, and every person is different. Nature does not have a moment of same scenery. In fact, nature is diverse and uncertain, and how it is perceived also differs among individuals.

If something that includes an aspect which cannot be generalized as such is a relation between nature and human beings, perhaps we can find the essential part of outdoor education there.

Different learning effect from intentions and goals

Outdoor education study has the achievements of practical studies. For example, we hold an educational camp (organizational camp), and we investigate and analyze the change of participants before and after their participation. It is said that their social skills, self-efficacy, etc., improve as a result.

However, we still cannot say that we have such effects because of outdoor education. That effect can be gained by other educational methods. For example, leadership capabilities are not something that can only be fostered by camps.

In the first place, a camp and its natural environment are full of variables, and it is difficult to specify the effect factor.

Meanwhile, a shy child might still stay shy even after he/she participated in a camp which had the goal of taking the initiative to be active. Does this mean that there was no effect from the outdoor education? That is not necessarily the case.

In the natural environment, the child might have felt or discovered something that he/she cannot feel in the classroom, and might have gone through some change or growth in his/her own way, besides the nature of shyness.

In other words, when we talk about educational effect, we tend to focus on values that adults seem to require, such as the child’s social skills or willingness towards social skills. However, changes and growth in the child’s own way are also very meaningful.

We can say that that is incidental learning derived from other things than intentions and goals of learning from the teacher’s perspective. In other words, nature can be food for learning in an unexpected way, for a teacher and a child himself/herself.

For example, when it rains at the camp, the planned program can be completely ruined. Would such a camp be meaningless? Children can be unexpectedly creative in making such a rainy situation enjoyable, and discover and notice things that were not expected.

Nature does not have a same moment. Sky, clouds, sunlight, and wind. Insects and birds that we encounter, and sounds that we hear. Moreover, every person has a different way of dealing with and perceiving such uncertain diversity. There they have the possibility to discover themselves as different from others, and others who are different from them.

That is, outdoor education can be said to have the possibility for learning that is different from the classroom, where learning progresses in pre-established harmony.

On the other hand, it is a fact that there is a dilemma of educational institutions, which try to accumulate knowledge and cultivate social skills, in that they cannot guarantee such learning effects.

Thinking about the relation to co-existing with technology

From a different perspective, we can say that achievements of scientific developments until now are a separation from the human body or human control of nature.

For example, take the development from walking to taking the car, bullet train, linear motor car, airplane, and rocket. It is a slightly different phase, but the internet can also be said to be an alternative to a human body function and a separation. As I have repeated many times, it brought convenience and efficiency to people.

Moreover, we are continuing to build a system aiming to exclude even a rare accident by controlling nature, which is full of uncertainties. Surely this brings peace to people.

On the other hand, such a modern civilization, in order for itself to smoothly operate in good order, is in fact becoming and proceeding as an enormous arrow to require equalization to human beings who are uncertain and diverse.

If that is true, is it something that leads to happiness for human being?

Of course, this does not mean that therefore technology is something bad and should be denied. Far from it.

For example, in the past, a compass and a map were indispensable for hiking or climbing a mountain. Still, everyone always had anxiety that they might get lost because they had no guarantee that they could perfectly utilize a compass and map. Therefore, we aimed for the destination making use of our five senses as well.

However, in the modern world, in most cases, anyone can reach a destination without a problem if we use the GPS on our smartphones. Of course, that is not a bad thing.

But, for example, what if the smartphone ran out of battery power in the mountain? We might realize how helpless we are in nature. That also means that we will realize that we are dependent on smartphones, and moreover, we are controlled by them.

Human beings are said to be a part of nature. It entails various meanings, but I think it indicates that human beings are similarly uncertain and diverse beings like nature.

Because of that, there may be accidents and problems, against which we can use our knowledge and creativity and move our bodies. I think this is our rich sensibility and capability to live our lives.

In that sense, I think it is important that we have a co-existing relationship with modern civilization technology, instead of depending too much on it or denying it. I am unsure as to where the borderline lies (to draw a line) between dependency and denial of technology for human happiness.

I realized these things, and I think that outdoor education is one of the triggers for further thinking. Thus, I am advancing the study.

Behind this, many people are in fact starting to feel that the story telling us that the final best answer from AI to us, who pursue cost performance and time performance, is “better off without human beings” is not just science fiction or a joke.

* The information contained herein is current as of July 2023.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

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