Over 50 years ago, the first year 9 residential outdoor ed programs started to emerge. It was a good idea! Nobody likes year 9s. (14-15 years old) They’re moody, annoying, think they know everything and don’t pay any attention in class. Consequently, sending them out to the bush somewhere where they were someone else’s problem was a genius idea. Why not send Year 8 as well? In fact, let’s send any students that regular classroom teachers struggle with! It would probably make their lives better.
Rather than address the fact that ‘main stream’ education is a complete waste of time, getting rid of students from the school is a much simpler solution to a far more complex problem. However, I’ll avoid going off on too much of a tangent for the moment in why our whole education system is broken and focus on the real issue. Sending year 9s away is now a huge waste of time.
Granted, everyone still loves to get rid of their year 9 students. I’ve never heard a single teacher say, “Oh I’m going to miss having my year 9s here.” No, the resounding sound of champagne corks popping throughout the school can still be heard every time a bus departs for a year 9 campus. Parents equally love the chance to make their dysfunctional year 9s someone else’s problem and spend time travelling or just enjoying going out for romantic dinners again. Which is all very nice, but to what real end?
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a year 9 residential program, most of them are structured around a rural or remote setting in which both outdoor pursuits are undertaken, as well as an academic program. Many that I have come across are just boarding schools in the bush, so not really outdoor Ed programs as such, but a seemingly great way to hide and lock up your year 9s from the outside world.
Having worked on year 9 residential programs for many years, they’ve either been too long, too short or have lacked clarity and purpose. The students, in my experience, have only really benefited through osmosis and the true educational value of a residential program more often than not, was completely lost on them and the school. Sure, it was a good piece of marketing for the school and you could dump a whole year group somewhere else for a bit, but what was the point? Other than getting all students into a regular daily routine and doing a few jobs, very little else in terms of longer lasting growth was ever achieved.
From all the years of running programs and expeditions with year 9s, I was convinced that we were running them for the wrong year group entirely. The concepts of goal setting, leadership, teamwork and sacrifice are somewhat foreign to the self-centred, self-focussed year 9s. More often than not, you barely shifted the dial in their lives. They simply lack the maturity to truly benefit from a residential experience in which expectations are high and independence is the key theme. Sure, they still get something out of it, but let’s be honest. Take anyone away for an extended period of time and something will happen. Therefore, why not rethink this flawed concept and move to a year 10 program instead?
One year makes a huge difference in the level of maturity and adolescents’ ability to appreciate, engage with and learn from a residential experience. If you want to introduce concepts such as leadership, introduce it with students who are starting to have some idea of what that means and an understanding of its implementation and benefit. Too often I see teachers insert the word leadership and they have no idea and understanding themselves as to what this really means. For year 9s who struggle with the concept, it can be overwhelming and confusing, or else set them up with the idea of how great they are… when they’re really not.
However, Year 10s (15-16 year olds) are at a tipping point. If you want to have a far greater impact on a young person’s life, it’s going to be during this year. Much of the unruly, lame attitude and behaviour of year 9 has been dispensed with and now, they’re far more open to self-reflection and growth. You can realistically approach them and the residential program with a far greater focus on being independent, critical thinking risk takers and problem solvers than you can with year 9s. Working with year 10s gives you a far greater opportunity to help them build character, explore what’s important to them in life and focus on leadership and life skills in preparation for their senior years, thus setting them up for life.
The difference in maturity in these two year groups is stark and the results would be too. For year 9s, you spend 80% of the program battering them around the head with rules and program structures to help stop them from doing dumb things and making stupid decisions. When they finally get it, you’ve only got 20% of the program left to be able to do anything useful with them. However, with year 10s, you have the potential to reverse this and instead spend 20% on structure and 80% on the experiential learning and reflection.
To continue to run year 9 residential programs is a phenomenal waste of time and missed educational opportunity. As the world changes and we need to up-skill students with a far more diverse set of flexible, adaptable critical thinking and adaptable experiential skills, we need to look at ways of maximising the impact of this during their time at school. Why waste all that time, energy and effort on rule enforcement with a year group that will struggle to truly understand and embrace the opportunity before them? Instead, it’s time we ditched year 9 programs and move them to year 10. As a result, the long-term benefit to students and the community will be vastly different and truly set students up for success.