What a fascinating place! Just off the coast of Perth, Rottnest Island is a rugged wind swept island on the Western most part of Australia. The island has been a salt mine, a defensive base and now a unique wildlife sanctuary.
The island was named by the early Dutch explorers who mistook the cutest marsupial in the world for a rat! This probably says more about the Dutch explorers than anything else, as rats look horrible and Quokkas are the most adorable things in the world. The Dutch explorers also spent much of their time sailing the world and nailing pewter dishes in random places, so trusting them to know the difference between two vastly different animals was perhaps a bridge too far.
Anyway, that aside, if the island had been called “amazing, cute, fury animal island,” the cutest animal in the world might have been run into extinction. For a day trip out with a group, this is an awesome place to go. Most of the travel around the island is on bikes, which makes it an ideal school excursion and can combine both an active day of riding, with an educational science or history based day of learning.
I guess we should start with what everyone really wants to see when they go to the island and that’s the Quokkas. They’re about the size of a small dog and are part of the kangaroo family. There’s around 10,000 of them on the island and they’re adorable. Strangely, they have no real fear of humans and so you can get up quite close. Sadly, idiots feed them all the time, so part of the population near the settlement are a bit mangy looking from all the crap people have fed them. When you take a group, don’t feed the Quokkas. Perhaps instead, feed some idiots some Quokka food and hopefully they’ll turn mangy instead. Here’s hoping! Anyway, you can still get up close and have a wonderful experience seeing a wild one of these that’s not going to be phased by your standing or kneeling nearby. Also, it’s not a good idea to try and pet them, especially if you have a group of students with you.
They do look like they’re smiling all the time, so make their lives happy by keeping your distance. There are daily tours which will take you around to see a few of the wild ones close to the settlement before you head out on a bike riding adventure.
The rest of the island has a variety of wonderful coves and beaches, some of which are suitable for swimming, but not patrolled, so if you’re thinking of swimming or snorkelling as part of the activity, make sure you have suitably qualified and experienced open water rescue and snorkel instructors. The island is ideal for this and the swim can form part of either just a break from the bike ride, or a wider marine ecology study during your trip.
The third part of the island that’s worth checking out are the WWII tunnels. As a first line of defence to protect Fremantle from the Germans and Japanese in WWII, a gun emplacement and underground fort was built on the island. On top of one of the hills, sits a huge artillery piece which is loaded from below and able to fire upon ships trying to attack or land in or around the city and its ports. Now the gun stands idle, but probably could be put into action again if someone were to try and kidnap the quokkas.
To do justice to a trip to Rottnest, you really need more than a day and there’s plenty of accommodation on the island. To get there, you’ll need to catch a ferry from Fremantle which runs back and forth each day. Perhaps as part of a multi day trip you could build in a community service component as the island has over 400 volunteers but could always do with a few more hands to help protect this wonderful sanctuary.
Whatever you decide to do when visiting the island, it’s an amazing place to be. From the coastline to the bike trails, the history, the salt lakes and the cutest animals in the world, this is one awesome, educational experience that students will never forget and well worth the trip to our most Western state.
One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all
Before you get too worried about my state of mind, if you haven’t worked out the reference already, you should go and play White Rabbit by Jefferson Aeroplane. One, it’s a cool song and two, it’s suitably trippy for this article! If you don’t get what it all means, that’s ok. It’s basically a drug trip song that’s used in just about every TV and movie drug montage ever with the connection to Alice In Wonderland.
Anyway, before I explain it to death, this week, we’re talking about drugs!!!! Today there’s no shortage of them. Students are on just about everything you can imagine to get them moving and motivated, to slow them down and focus them. To stop them sleeping, to make them sleep. To make them more productive, to make them less destructive. To fight bacteria, to promote bacteria. To balance them out, to unbalance them out! To get them regular, to stop them being too regular!
It’s a wonderful world of pharmaceutical profits in every schoolbag! Doctors seem to give out drugs more often than candy… which they’re no longer allowed to give out, because candy may contain traces of nuts.
Whilst drugging kids up to their eyeballs is entirely up to the parents and their doctors, the problem is that teachers then get lumped with this huge responsibility of administering medications when they take students away on camps. Most teachers in my experience are ill-equipped to do this and lack the confidence to do it properly.
In most cases, giving medications is fairly straight forward. You look at the packet and what it says on the box and you follow the instructions. Generally, it’s usually no more than giving a pill, a puff or a small dose of some sort of liquid. If staff are being asked to provide an injecting service, perhaps mum, dad or the doctor should come on camp instead.
Even though it’s a fairly simple process, it can be overwhelming with everything else that’s going on during camp. I found this to be the case on one camp program where we had a lot of students who required daily medications and a lot of other things happening at the same time. It wasn’t until one teacher forgot a student’s ADHD medications in the morning that the problem became really apparent. If you can imagine Bart Simpson on steroids, that’s pretty much what the student turned into without his meds. It didn’t make for a good day at work. Instead, it was just containment and damage control until bedtime thirteen hours later. It’s not something I ever want to go through again. The problem is that it’s so easy to forget medication in this way as one distraction on camp can lead to another and whilst every teacher is trying their best to manage, sometimes things like this can slip through the cracks.
So, how did I solve this crack problem? Well I built an app to remind teachers when medications were due. It triggered alerts 5mins before the medication was due and then another 5mins afterwards if something was missed. Then it was a simple checkbox that showed the right medication, the right student and once it was administered, it was timestamped. This became a core feature of the Xcursion platform and now one of its most frequently used functions.
So now despite the tidal wave of speed coming your way to slow those manic kids down, you can be assured that you’ll be able to get every pill to every student that needs it, on time, every time. It will leave you comfortably numb and happy in the knowledge that you’ve supplied a stack of controlled drugs to small children and prevented them from go troppo all day.
But if you don’t have a way of tracking this with something like the Xcursion app and instead decide to go chasing rabbits, and you know you're going to fall. The best defence when things go completely wrong is to Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call. Just ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall…
Let’s be honest! Nobody likes writing incident reports. They’re kind of annoying, time consuming and just another bit of paper work that you have to do on top of everything else! Added to this, so many schools and organisations make it difficult for their teachers and instructors to complete.
Consequently, when you combine added work with difficult to complete, this results in poor reporting, late reporting and quite often non-reporting of incidents. Ironically, WHS research has shown that the more senior a staff member, the less likely they are to complete a report. Added to this is the deterioration of memory that adversely impacts the accuracy and validity of any report. No matter how good someone thinks their memory is, the longer they delay in writing an incident report, the fuzzier and less accurate it becomes. Important details can be overlooked and left out. Such details about actions taken, mitigation or treatment, could become vitally important years down the track and without a rock-solid incident report, the person and the organisation can be massively exposed to a variety of potential liabilities. However, everyday things happen. The writing of an incident report is put off until ‘later’ and when ‘later’ comes, the events of yesterday or last week are nothing but a distant memory in amongst a busy life of work, family, traffic and cups of coffee.
Yet incident reports are critical to our understanding of what happened, causation, consequence and how to avoid it happening again. The ‘bury your head in the sand,’ ‘it’ll be right’ and ‘I’ll do it later’ options are not options at all and all incidents, no matter how seemingly minor or insignificant, need to be reported in a timely and accurate manner. Consistent and timely reporting can highlight patterns or risks which might otherwise have been missed.
With so many potential negatives of trying to get someone to write an incident report, no wonder they’re done so poorly. Add remoteness or overseas to the equation and you’re not getting anything wonderful or insightful anytime soon. The end result is an unintended exposure to liability and the inability to learn vital lessons from what went wrong. It was this exact situation and combination of factors which led me to develop the Xcursion software platform. I didn’t want to be doing incident reports at the end of a multi day expedition when I was tired and about to have a day off. I wanted to have it all done way before then. However, at the same time as a director of outdoor ed, I wanted incident reports sent to me from the field as fast as possible, so I could understand what had happened and help provide an appropriate response. Hence, I built the Xcursion mobile app to solve both my problems at once and in doing so, came up with a solution that made it easier, faster and a far more reliable way of doing incident reports.
What was the result? Suddenly, there was an increase in incidents!!! Well that’s probably not quite true. There were the same number of incidents, but now they were actually being reported. From this we could finally understand the prevalence of the type, severity and causation of incidents, with some reliable level of detail and accuracy, rather than… nothing.
Essentially, as soon as you make something easy for someone to do, then you have a greater chance of it being done. The more difficult and complex the task, the less likely you are to get anything. It baffles me that something so important is often such a low priority until a major incident occurs and everyone is demanding answers. Why not make it easy on everyone? No more inaccurate hand-written reports which are days or weeks old that you have to scan and file somewhere. Just leverage a bit of mobile tech to do it all for you and what can often take ages or not get done at all, could just take a couple of minutes and give you more detail than ever before, helping protect the first responder, students and with greater insight, help you reduce risk for every activity you do.
I was reading a book recently called ‘Robot Proof’ by Joseph Aoun which explores the way in which automation and AIs are reshaping the world as we know it and creating a new dynamic in which any sort of repeatable job will ultimately be taken over by robots. Why shouldn’t it? What’s the point of doing something over and over again in an extraordinarily inefficient way? This is not progress. This is just time wasting. Surely humans are better equipped and more suited to more complex things than this!
I strongly believe that society is yet to come to terms with this phenomenal transformation of the workplace. Despite people being aware and understanding that jobs have been replaced by computers or automated processes, this trend is only getting faster and more wide-spread and whilst many new jobs were created in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, the number of new jobs being created is diminishing versus the number that were previously being created.
Therefore, how do we protect ourselves and the next generation from the robots? No, I’m not talking about fighting Skynet, in an apocalyptic battle for survival. I’m talking about the real threat of mass automation and the implementation of artificial intelligences that will be able to replace large numbers of both manual and professional jobs.
The answer, of course, is experiential education. Whilst all the theories and knowledge in the world can be digitised and regurgitated, this doesn’t have the same impact that a real world experience has. There’s a defining factor in humans and the world which AIs and robots are not good with and that’s randomness.
Whilst a computer may be able to generate random numbers, it can’t understand emotion and the randomness of human thought and action. You only need to look at recent events in politics to see how extraordinarily stupid people can be. Decisions made on the run, irrational national emergencies and a whole host of decisions made on emotion and without any of the constraints that a computer using logic may have to deal with. Whilst this is not always good, it’s human and this total randomness that is a feature of human behaviour is one defining trait. If people are experienced in dealing with this, it can protect them from the threat of being replaced by a machine.
Consequently, the more we’re exposed to the randomness of life and the uncertainty of what could happen next, the more we will be prepared for any situation. Therefore, experiential education opens the world to real experiences and forces everyone to face the randomness of life. Some of the most interesting trips I’ve ever been on have come from having to actively manage random events, emotions and changing conditions. If you were for example to have a virtual reality excursion (which technology will increasingly enable), you would have the immersive, yet sanitised experience that is dictated by computer programming and logic, rather than the complete randomness of the natural world.
On expeditions, encounters with wildlife, with other groups, with storms, with discomfort, with teachable moments, these could never be produced by an AI, all because of the randomness of the world around us. It’s important that we continue to prepare students for uncertainty and the best way to do it is to get out into the real world and live the experience. No matter what the work place is, no matter what the experience is, no matter what the challenge is, we will always need to be prepared for the random nature of life. Those who can react and adapt, will be successful. Those who can’t cope with this, will not.
The more the world digitises, and logic systems are put in place to run repeatable processes, the more important it is for educators to engage their students with real life experiences and allow them to face the randomness of the world and build a skill set so they can adapt and thrive in this new world that comes a step closer every single day.
Long gone are the days of going on camp for the sake of going on camp. Education is changing, and outdoor education is playing an increasingly important role in that change, helping to develop a vitally important skill-set of problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork, which is needed in a rapidly changing world.
Having worked on many different outdoor education programs, we’ve always needed to ensure we were setting the right level of challenge and hitting the right social and emotional developmental goals for our students. If we make things too soft and it’s just ‘a walk in the park,’ it results in complaints. If we make things too hard, and it’s like trekking to Mordor, it results in tears and complaints. Therefore, how do you find that happy medium?
Essentially, finding that balance is through understanding the needs of your students and clearly setting out what you want them to achieve from the experience. Are you developing teamwork? Are you developing resilience? Are you developing relationships? Are you developing personal responsibility? Are you developing leadership? An answer to each of these questions will help shape your approach to ensure your students are getting the most out of their outdoor experiences.
What you want is an authentic approach to address your students’ needs and not just a camp for the sake of it. To make your outdoor education programs as authentic as possible, it’s extremely important to understand the cultural and social context of your school. What are the biggest challenges your students are facing at school and at home? How does the culture of your school influence planning? What are the right teachable moments needed for your students? How much have they been pushed outside their comfort zone in the past? How much further can they be pushed in the future?
There truly is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this and understanding the skill-set and level of maturity of your students, is critical in designing the right type of program. For example, one school I worked for, their Year 9 program was massively challenging with 5 days of a relentless expedition which saw students moving from sunrise to sunset every day. It pushed the limits in every way and was about personal challenge, teamwork and strength through adversity. However, they’d been building up to this from year 3 with a graduated, sequential program that pushed the limits a bit further every successive year.
Conversely, another group of year 9s I worked with, who had no other real outdoor education experience simply needed to be able to work together on a very basic level. Therefore, canoeing 20km in a day, followed by 19km of hiking the next day was out of the question. Instead, problem-solving and initiative games followed by a short canoe trip and a mountain bike ride was the most beneficial approach, because this was all new to them. It was a bit challenging, and far enough outside their comfort zone to create some teachable moments on which to reflect, but not enough that it was going to end in tears.
Some of the most powerful and memorable learning experiences come from outdoor education. However, as with every other aspect of education, this can be significantly improved through careful and authentic design to support and build upon any specific areas of need for your students. The more outdoor education is targeted at the specific social and emotional needs of your school and your students, the more effective it will be in producing great results for your students. Be it problem solving, teamwork, resilience, leadership or simply understanding the needs of others, focussing on these outcomes can have a profound effect on everyone that goes out on one of your school programs.
Having worked in the snow sports’ industry for many years, both in Australia and overseas, I love being up in the mountains. It’s a great place for students to have a unique, challenging and rewarding experience doing something very different from their regular schooling.
However, with every trip away there are some significant issues you and your staff need to be aware of. Here’s a few great resources to help get you started on your trip planning!
General Snow Safety www.snowsafe.org.au/
Ski Resort Info
Thredbo - https://www.thredbo.com.au/schools/
Perisher - https://www.perisher.com.au/plan-your-trip/groups/2019-school-groups
Falls Creek - https://www.fallscreek.com.au/schoolgroups/
Mt Hotham - https://www.mthotham.com.au/discover/more-options/groups/hotham-school-tertiary-groups
Mt Buller - https://www.mtbuller.com.au/Winter/plan-your-visit/schools-and-groups
Happy Skiing! I hope you have a great season!
This is probably one of the single most unpleasant things to read as an outdoor education and risk management professional, but it’s vitally important that any teacher taking a group of students anywhere reads and learns from the extremely tragic experiences that are outlined in any coronial inquest. The lessons learnt from these, must inform our approach to risk management and safety for every program we run.
There are often two dramatically different types of coronial reports. Firstly, the tragic accident, which could not be reasonably foreseen, and despite all efforts to respond, a life is lost. However, more often than not, it’s the second type of report and coronial finding that clearly demonstrates systemic failure and usually a series of events which with each step/poor decision/delay, leads to a fatality.
Whilst both are undeniably tragic, the second leaves families, schools and all those involved destroyed for life. As you read through one of these, the warning signs, deterioration of conditions and clear evidence that there’s a problem is usually abundantly clear. Whilst many would say it’s easy to see that in the rear-view mirror, which I agree is entirely true, as hindsight is very powerful, but often the obvious warning signs are there. Thus, understanding your environment, your group and the risks involved in what you’re doing, should have already provided you with enough insight to take the action needed to prevent a situation deteriorating into a critical or fatal situation.
What’s vitally important from this is the need for situational awareness. Instructors and teachers need to be aware of a range of factors (which are usually outlined in a risk assessment) and ensure they’re proactively considered and managed. Reading coronial reports is a horrible, but important part of that skills development for being aware of conditions and situations which have led to irreversible and tragic consequences.
I found myself in one such situation a number of years ago. We were out hiking west of Nowra and heading in towards Kangaroo Valley. It was a bright sunny and hot afternoon in February and a massive, angry storm rolled in faster than crazed shoe shoppers on Boxing Day. We were suddenly trapped on a ridge with pelting rain, lightning striking all around us and drilling the ground with no pause between the lightning and the deafening concussion of the thunder. Strike after strike after strike, it pinned us down. Perched on our packs in the ‘lightning position’ we could do nothing else other than stay clear of trees and wait out the storm. However, the storm persisted and hour after hour we had no option but to stay put.
Suddenly there was a break in the storm and the other group leader had the idea that we should keep going despite the conditions around us. We were heading towards a river which needed to be crossed to get to the camp site. We had saturated gortexes and some students were showing early signs of hyperthermia. It was not a good idea to press on, but full of bravado and telling the group that if we didn’t, the other group would think we were weak, a nauseating feeling hit me. This didn’t feel right. We had too many factors at play. The extreme weather, the equipment failure and the condition of the students. When something feels wrong, then you must act immediately. It’s not a matter of waiting to see what happens. Stop, regroup, bring in other resources and respond before things spiral out of control.
This is the critical tipping point of any coronial inquest. You can often determine the point of no return where the decision to continue inevitably led to the fatality and often it’s based upon poor thoughtless decision making, where there is plenty of evidence that it’s time to stop, regroup and rethink everything. Thankfully, the nauseating feeling on the mentioned trip, was telling me things are deteriorating and we need to change tactics. We waited until the main storm passed, went and grabbed the 4WD and then moved the group to an alternate campsite. Soon after setting up we had a fire going and everyone had something warm to drink.
Whilst it’s painful and distressing to read coronial inquests, it’s vitally important that you do as part of your ongoing risk management training and professional development. Understanding the experiences of others and the tragedies of the past can help us to make better decisions and ensure the safety of our groups into the future. It’s those lessons learned, that are powerful and stark reminders that risk management must be a living, breathing approach to running any program and not just a document which is dusted off when it’s subpoenaed by the coroner.
As part of your on going risk management, it’s well worth regularly reviewing and workshopping coronial reports with your team to ensure the situational awareness and those tipping points are at the forefront of everyone’s minds every time they’re out with a group to ensure everyone has a safe, challenging and enjoyable experience.
Free time in the outdoors is challenging. As an experienced outdoor ed teacher other than lightning, high winds and trees falling over, free time is always my biggest concern. “Why’s that?” you ask. “Isn’t this just quiet down time?”
No!!!! Who told you that? It’s actually the causation of the majority of injuries on outdoor programs. “What?” I hear parents scream in the distance. Yes, that’s true, it’s not the activities such as abseiling, or high ropes which have a very high level of perceived risk that are the problem and causation of many injuries. It’s the sitting around doing nothing at outdoor centres which leads to many of the injuries we see in outdoor programs.
The Budawang and Etrema Wilderness areas are some of the most rugged and challenging areas in which to hike in NSW. Having led many groups through both these wilderness areas over the years, filled with snakes, hippies, crazed possums and often a shortage of access to fresh water and evacuation routes, the thought of simply hanging around on an outdoor campus with a group of students for free time, is more worrying than anything I ever could have and did encounter in those tough, unforgiving wilderness areas.
In recent years, I’ve noticed a changing phenomenon. Kids are really rubbish at doing free time, especially when there’s no structured activity going on. Most children’s lives, especially with two working parents, have become so over-structured that the idea that they might have to entertain themselves or find happiness in quiet time is something completely foreign. This is a real problem for our over-stimulated children, who on camp generally don’t have the option of pulling out their phone to play pointless addictive and life-wasting games to stave off the threat of a lack of over-stimulation and having to socialise in a meaningful way.
Unfortunately, what happens as a result of children who are not used to free-time being given lots of free time, is that stupid and poorly thought out games start. These can often result in running around dangerously in areas with which they’re unfamiliar and not always well-supervised in. The other potential negative scenario is that to cure their boredom, they look for other unhealthy things to do, such as picking on each other in unpleasant ways. It’s no surprise that the majority of outdoor education injuries occur during this time.
There’s a false sense of security which goes with being in a hard-top cabin style outdoor ed location. The idea is that it’s not really that risky compared with the activities that were being done during the day. How can you compare that high ropes course which scared the life out of everyone, with sitting around talking or more likely running around madly. Sometimes, teachers can think that once the activities are over, then it’s also their own ‘free time,’ so they can relax a little. Sadly I’ve seen far too much of this over the years and ultimately, if you’re on duty and sitting on the lounge inside a building where you can’t see any children and thinking you’re providing suitable supervision and an effective duty of care, then you’re a moron and should not be teaching. If you’re reading this blog, I would suggest that’s not you, but I’ve seen it first hand and it’s unsurprising the majority of injuries on outdoor programs happen during free time at outdoor centres.
How do we reduce the incidence of injuries when we know kids are finding it increasingly difficult to do free-time? Firstly, don’t employ idiots! This is a good basis upon which to start. However, if you’re lucky enough to have a good staff, as part of your pre-program safety briefing, highlight this as a key risk that you need everyone to look out for. Give a couple of examples if you’ve seen things as I have of what can and does happen when supervision becomes laxed, or a false sense of security is created by the differential between an activity such as abseiling and hanging around dorms.
However, one huge opportunity is to run some structured games during this free time. Sure, it means teachers have to run another activity, but that’s far preferable to the trip to hospital and the awkward phone calls back to home and school to explain what happened and why there’s a student in hospital after ‘free-time’ injury. To be honest, I’ve had to make a lot of phone calls over the years in regards to injuries, but the most awkward and difficult ones to deal with are the free-time ones, because they’re really hard to explain the reasons as to why they happened. A fall from a mountain bike which caused a broken wrist is far easier to explain and manage and has less blow back, than trying to explain why a shoulder was dislocated inside a dormitory.
The reality is that children do find free-time increasingly difficult due to the over-stimulation and over scheduling of their lives. Whilst it would be great to think they can have some much needed free-time, this has often proven to be some of the most risky periods of time during outdoor ed programs where the most injuries occur. The best option is to ease students into the idea of free-time by structuring some initiative games, group activities, or light exercise during these times, rather than just ‘free-time.’ As a result, you’ll spend less time patching kids up, going to hospital and having awkward conversations.
Kyoto is an amazing city of contrasts. A bustling city of around 1.5 million people, which is central Kyoto, not the surrounding areas, this mega city seems to go on and on and is connected to Osaka through an unbroken series of medium and high rise apartment buildings. It’s crazy to think that this combined urban area consists of around 20 million people.
It’s an astonishing and busy place. I arrived by Shinkansen, aka the bullet train, from Tokyo and managed to find my way through the crowded station onto the subway and eventually to the hotel. Not trying to get through a crowded train station carrying a pair of skis was a wonderful bonus this time around. Instead of skiing, I was out exploring some of the astounding history and culture of Japan.
Other than trying to get through Tokyo station in peak hour, I’d not been out into any major Japanese cities before and this was a fascinating experience. The outward impression I have of Japanese cities is that they’re kind of ugly. There are lots of tall buildings which on the outside look dull and grotty, interspersed with a few amazing ancient castles, temples and traditional styled houses.
A massive population, random sprawling developments, recessions and years of deflation, haven’t helped the look of many of the cities in Japan. Functionally, over design seems to have been the thought at the time. Despite this outward appearance, once inside one of these mega cities, you can find endless hidden gems of the ancient world, living right alongside colossal skyscrapers. The cities have simply grown up around and consumed so many of these places that were once focal points of small villages and townships.
Kyoto, for example, has a lot of temples and I mean a lot! Everywhere you turn, there’s another temple staring back at you. You can be walking down a laneway and a simple old wooden doorway can take you into another world. I came across many of these by chance. I had a fairly general map from the hotel which indicated areas where the major temples were, but on the way there I found temples in the middle of shopping centres and in amongst suburban housing areas.
The moment you step through one of these doorways, it feels as if you’ve stepped back in time and out of the city. The change of atmosphere is stark. Gone are the bustling noises of traffic and the manic pace of the city. Instead, you’re surrounded by a serenity that’s further enhanced by delicately tended gardens and bamboo water features that continue to flow gently. No wonder the zen garden is such an art form, as it can dramatically transform and create a quiet space, even amongst millions of people.
I found the same experience time and time again as I stepped inside an ancient building. It feels a world away from the hectic pace of the surrounding city. The Imperial Palace, nearby castles and countless temples were all the same. Somehow, time has stood still inside these spaces, whilst the city has exploded around them.
Another interesting place which provided the same dramatic contrast, was the Japanese Gardens next to Himeji Castle. There’s a major four lane road right out in front and a massive car park opposite. Inside, however, is a serene series of masterfully designed and maintained gardens where I heard the birds chirping for the first time in days and saw huge koi fish swim lazily through the ponds, expectantly popping their mouths out whenever someone’s shadow appeared over the water. Buffeted by solid traditional Japanese walls, these gardens are a wonderful example how the old and the new within huge cities co-exist.
Koko-en Garden Near Himeji Castle
From here, you can walk ten minutes down the road to a gaudy neon lit mall, filled with seemingly endless shops and constantly swiftly moving crowds of shoppers and commuters rushing through one of seven identical Starbucks stores that line the streets. This dramatic contrast shows the underlying complexity of the modern world and the desire to escape to quieter and more relaxing times and spaces from the past.
There’s something wonderful about both sides of this mix of old and new. It’s important to preserve and value our global heritage and cultures and at the same time we still need to build cities which can leverage the technological advances and advantages that are being continuously designed and developed in the digital age. Whilst we can all hope that city design into the future will be less ugly than what it is now, the reality is that this is just the surface and once you step inside, you’re only moments away from a serene green space or a preserved vast estate. Working out how to best link all of this together with some thoughtful design, is definitely going to be an ongoing challenge for the next few generations, but the possibilities of future cities which connect both old and new in a seamless manner is an exciting prospect to anticipate.
Having traveled quite a bit for work and for fun, I’ve never learnt more about a new culture than immersing myself in it. We always learn best through our experiences, yet most of what’s taught is still inside a classroom. Now if it’s maths, that’s fair enough as there are many basic concepts that need to be worked through in a fairly structured way, but if it’s cultural understanding for which you’re aiming, then it’s near impossible to truly learn anything unless you immerse everyone in the cultural experience.
There’s a lot of schools doing just this with countless overseas trips happening each holiday period. But why should this be just an optimal extra in a holiday program? Firstly, the cost involved to take an entire school away each year on some sort of cultural experience would potentially be prohibitively expensive. However, there are other options. Why not explore the cost of chartering an entire plane? If you’ve got to move a few hundred people, surely one of the airlines could come up with a special deal, plus it removes the often annoying feeling for other passengers of being surrounded by a group of school students.
Anyway, major logistics aside, which I’m sure when you think of it aren’t insurmountable, there are some massive benefits to taking students away to experience another culture. Students today are getting a very distorted view on life due to the bombardment of marketing and digital noise that’s constantly around them. For many, it’s all about image and consumption, which creates a disconnect with relationships and so many aspects of the world. This is not of their own making, but conditioning being experienced in their every day lives.
What many students and teachers need is a good shock to the system to snap out of the sometimes monotonous grind of every day classrooms and experience something different and amazing that can never be taught. Immersing students in a different culture, can create a life changing experience which they can’t get any other way. It can provide them with a completely different perspective on life and enhance their appreciation of others. For any worthwhile cultural experience, it has to be dramatically different. It doesn’t have to be the shockingly inappropriate orphan tourism which so many schools have enabled in recent years, but is does need to be something remarkably different from our own culture.
Thankfully, we don’t even need to go outside of our own country for this as we have some unique local cultures and aboriginal communities in places such as Arnhem Land that welcome school groups for extended stays to experience a more simple way of life that’s focused on relationships, rather than consumption.
An Aboriginal Person - Tjapukai Cultural Centre
Māori Cultural Performance - Waitangi
Another great place to go, which is only a couple of hours flight from Darwin is East Timor. With a mix of Tetem, Portuguese and Indonesian influences, this is a remarkable country with a unique culture. Whilst still a very poor nation, the Timorese people are big on education and are in the process of rebuilding their nation after years of conflict. Whilst now a relatively safe country, it’s worth connecting with the Department of Foreign Affairs for the latest assessment. However, from an educational point of view, immersion in this type of culture that’s so close to our own country, is a great way of developing the global citizenship within our community.
Until going to East Timor, I had no idea how devastated it still was from years of war, but contrasted with this was the positivity within the community that with democratic freedom, they could now build a nation of their design and not one imposed from outside. Having been occupied by the Portuguese and more recently the Indonesians, this is something we can’t fathom as Europeans, who have done most of the occupying.
One of the key skills required for students to be successful into the future, is cultural understanding. It’s not just knowing about a culture from reading about it. It’s about truly understanding other cultures and gaining an appreciation for a different kind of world view and life experience. This doesn’t need to be limited to our own regional ‘backyard,’ but can extend to all sorts of places around the world. Living this sort of experience can put into perspective the history, the geography and the global perspective of another culture which in turn can help develop an appreciation for others and a greater understanding and appreciation of our own culture. Whilst it may not be possible for everyone to go away every year and experience a cultural immersion, (although you could charter an A380), it should however, be part of an integrated Yr 7-12 curriculum. The long-term educational benefit for students and the development of global citizenship would be profoundly impacted on in such a positive way.